WFP confirmed today that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) had agreed to accept assistance for victims of recent flooding in the country. The United Nations agency also pledged to promptly consider any requests from the government for additional support.
Some 13,000 residents of Songchon county in South Phyongan province are to receive 30-day rations of wheat flour and enriched vegetable oil amounting to 150 metric tons. The county was badly affected by torrential rains and landslides that devastated central and southern parts of the DPRK in mid-July.
“We are very willing to help these unfortunate victims of the recent floods, who lost so much,” said Michael Dunford, WFP’s acting Country Director for the DPRK. “We stand ready to provide additional assistance based on demonstrated need.”
Hundreds dead or missing
The DPRK government said hundreds of people were dead or missing following the floods, and that tens of thousands had been made homeless. Severe and widespread damage to infrastructure, including roads, bridges and rail networks, was also reported.
Preliminary estimates indicate the loss to this year’s harvest due to the floods to be in the range of 90,000 tonnes of cereals. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) had earlier projected the cereal deficit for the current marketing year (November 2005-October 2006) at 900,000 tonnes, nearly 20 percent of the minimum required.
The aid for flood victims in Songchon county, 80 kilometres northeast of the capital, Pyongyang, comes from a contingency reserve in WFP’s current two-year operation to combat nutritional deficiencies and boost grassroots food security.
Distributions under this broader operation, which aims to feed up to 1.9 million especially vulnerable North Koreans, most of them women and children, are being threatened by lack of funding. Donations for the operation, which began in June, amount to less than 8 percent of the US$102 million required.
“There are significant ongoing requirements for food aid in the DPRK, which have increased as a result of the flooding,” said Tony Banbury, WFP’s Regional Director for Asia.
“We are committed to helping North Koreans in need of our assistance, including victims of last month’s natural disaster. “But we can only do so if we have access to assess the extent of the needs and are able to monitor the distribution of the aid.”
Food for development
WFP’s current programme is carefully designed to build on gains achieved during a decade of emergency assistance. Vitamin-and-mineral enriched foods processed at local factories are being given to young children and pregnant and nursing women.
Cereal rations are being provided to underemployed workers through food-for-community-development projects aimed at rehabilitating agricultural and other community infrastructure.
Past WFP operations mobilised more than four million tons of food valued at US$1.7 billion and supported up to one-third of the North Korean population of 23 million, contributing to a significant reduction in malnutrition rates.
Still, the most recent large-scale survey, conducted in October 2004 by WFP, UNICEF and the government, found 37 percent of young children to be chronically malnourished, and one-third of mothers both malnourished and anaemic.