WFP’s governing Executive Board has approved a two-year plan to build on the agency’s ten-year record of humanitarian assistance to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea by tackling nutritional deficiencies and chronic hunger.
The world, and DPRK, is a better place because of our presence in the country
WFP Executive Director James Morris
Valued at US$102 million and requiring 150,000 metric tons of commodities for 1.9 million North Koreans, the plan aims to provide vitamin-and-mineral enriched foods produced in-country to young children and women of child-bearing age, and cereal rations to underemployed communities to build and rehabilitate agricultural and other community assets.
“We remain very concerned about the nutritional status of children in DPRK, so I appreciate this decision by our Executive Board, which will allow us to build on the progress we have achieved,” WFP Executive Director James Morris said of the decision by the 36-nation governing board at the agency’s headquarters in Rome, Italy.
“The world, and DPRK, is a better place because of our presence in the country.”
Several members of the Executive Board expressed strong concerns about the restrictions on monitoring and access that the DPRK government has imposed.
These include a reduction in the number of international staff from a peak of 46 to just 10, and a reduction in the number of monitoring visits from approximately 400 per month to a much more limited number.
“Our board members have raised reasonable questions about our access to people in need and ability to monitor their donations. WFP shares these concerns and has worked hard to negotiate improved conditions for our operation,” said Morris, who visited Pyongyang in December 2005.
“We now look to the government of the DPRK to agree to conditions that will allow us to do our work properly, for the sake of the people who need our help.”
“If we cannot reach a suitable final agreement on our operating conditions, we will be forced to withdraw,” Morris told the Executive Board members.
WFP ended ten years of emergency assistance to the DPRK on 31 December 2005 after the government, citing better harvests and domestic concerns about the emergence of a dependency culture and the “intrusiveness” of the agency’s monitoring, declared it would in the future accept only assistance that addressed medium and long-term needs.
Approval by the Executive Board is just the first step in the process of resuming food aid to DPRK.
Just the first step
WFP and the government must now agree upon the details of implementation – including how many staff, their access to beneficiaries, and ability to monitor assistance – to be formalised in a letter of understanding. Before food distribution can restart, additional funds from donor countries will also be needed.
Past WFP operations mobilised more than four million tonnes of commodities valued at US$1.7 billion, supported up to one-third of the population of 23 million, and contributed to a significant reduction in malnutrition rates.
While largely designed to meet urgent needs, they progressively sought to promote medium- and long-term food security.
“Giving nutritious foods to children in nurseries, kindergartens, primary schools and other institutions, and to pregnant and nursing women, is a vital investment in the future of innocents,” said Tony Banbury, WFP’s Regional Director for Asia.
“But WFP will only be able to provide that assistance if we can reach an acceptable agreement with the government of the DPRK on implementation of the program,” added Banbury.
While in years past WFP’s resources were spread across all accessible counties – 160 out of 203 for much of 2005 – the new operation envisages a more focused approach, with 80 per cent of the food going to the 50 most vulnerable counties.
These are mainly in the heavily urbanised, erstwhile industrial east of the country and the remote, mountainous north.
“As in the past, our policy of ‘no access – no food’ will continue,” Banbury assured members of the Executive Board.
“The primary responsibility for addressing the country’s food problems rests squarely with the DPRK government,” said Richard Ragan, WFP’s Pyongyang-based Country Director.
“They have said they continue to value our assistance and partnership, so now we look forward to concluding negotiations that will allow us to help some of the country’s most vulnerable women and children.”