WFP DELIVERS FIRST FOOD AID TO VICTIMS OF NORTH KOREA TRAIN DISASTER
BEIJING - The United Nations World Food Programme has delivered the first humanitarian assistance to hospital victims of North Korea's railway disaster, and is pledging to feed thousands of others left injured or homeless for as long as necessary despite severe funding shortages.
The agency's first seven metric ton consignment of high-energy biscuits, wheat and vegetable oil reached Ryongchon on Sunday -- site of the devastating 22 April explosion which has so far claimed 161 lives, injured 1,300 people and destroyed 1,850 homes.
A United Nations team made up of Tony Banbury, WFP's Regional Director for Asia, Richard Ragan, WFP's Country Director in the DPRK, and Masood Hyder the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the DPRK, were the first foreign aid officials to visit the train blast victims in Sinuiju's Provincial People's Hospital, ten kilometres north of Ryongchon.
Food was immediately distributed to 360 severely wounded, many of them children, receiving emergency treatment at the hospital; remaining rations were provided to the estimated 7,000 people sheltering with friends or relatives and in undamaged public buildings.
"WFP has been at the forefront of this emergency operation and we intend to remain there for as long as we are needed," said Banbury, who travelled to the scene on 25 April.
In addition to emergency food aid, the team observed an urgent need for a wide range of medicines and medical supplies. "We saw many seriously wounded patients. The worst were those who sustained severe blast injuries to the face, especially children. There was a total lack of medical supplies", said Ragan.
WFP's Executive Director James Morris has expressed his condolences about the tragedy and instructed the agency to provide whatever assistance is needed to relieve suffering.
Relief and rehabilitation requirements are set to rise in the coming weeks, and WFP aims to supply at least 1,000 tonnes of food aid (approximately US$1 million) to victims over the next 30 days and beyond. With many of the injured suffering severe facial injuries and burns, the commodity mix will include noodles and a rice milk blend produced in a WFP-supported food factory in Sinuiju -- high in kilocalories but easy to eat. WFP will also use some of the food to support reconstruction efforts.
In addition to the WFP assistance, the non-governmental organisation German Agro-Action is also providing 380 tonnes of food aid.
WFP has offered other UN agencies and aid organisations, including the World Health Organisation, back-up support through its Sinuiju sub-office; aid workers have been given unprecedented access to the blast area.
WFP's need to channel large volumes of food aid into Ryongchon's recovery will further pressure the agency's already underfunded broader operations in the DPRK.
Before the emergency, the agency aimed to mobilise 484,000 tonnes of food aid for 6.5 million people this year, including 3.8 million so-called core beneficiaries -- young children, pregnant and nursing women, and elderly people, who are heavily dependent on food aid.
However, donations have fallen well short of needs and the agency is currently unable to provide cereals to 600,000 of these beneficiaries, a figure set to rise to one million by the start of May. "Responding to this terrible tragedy has put an additional strain on our resources. WFP would welcome extra donor support for its emergency operation," said Banbury.
While North Korea has been producing more food in recent years with evidence of nutritional improvements, there is still not enough to feed its population of around 23 million. A survey conducted in October 2002 showed that 42 percent of young children in North Korea were chronically malnourished, nine percent acutely malnourished and 21 percent underweight.
"I am deeply concerned because we are already one-third of the way through the year and only US$21 million of the requested US$171 million has been raised. For the Ryongchon disaster WFP plans to issue a "flash" appeal to support the train blast emergency operation," said Ragan.
WFP vulnerability assessments have confirmed severe and growing disparities between rural and urban communities. At the time of the Ryonchon explosion, Banbury was travelling in the northeast, witnessing firsthand how economic reforms have led to food shortages in industrial cities.
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency. In 2003 WFP fed nearly 104 million people in 81 countries including most of the world's refugees and internally displaced people.
WFP Global School Feeding Campaign -- As the largest provider of nutritious meals to poor school children, WFP has launched a global campaign aimed at ensuring the world's 300 million undernourished children are educated.
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