ROME – The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is launching an emergency food and nutrition operation to respond to urgent hunger needs among 3.5 million vulnerable people identified in a multi-agency food security survey that was completed in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) last month.
The operation – which will include the highest standards of monitoring and control to ensure that food gets to where it is needed - will primarily focus on the nutritional needs of women and children. The recent WFP-led Rapid Food Security Assessment concluded that food shortages in DPRK have led to a serious deterioration in the health of millions of people who are already struggling to feed themselves.
“We face a critical window to get supplies into the country and reach the millions who are already hungry,” said WFP Deputy Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer, Amir Abdulla. “Our primary concern is for those who are most vulnerable to shocks in the food supply – children, mothers, the elderly and large families.”
A bitter winter, crop loss, and a lack of resources to secure cereal supplies from outside the country have left DPRK highly vulnerable to food shortages. While acute malnutrition has not reached crisis levels, widespread chronic malnutrition and the poor diet in DPRK mean that if there is any significant reduction in food intake the situation could deteriorate rapidly.
With government rations currently providing only about half of people’s daily food needs, some families are already resorting to negative survival strategies, including cutting down on the size and number of meals.
WFP will be providing both staple cereals to vulnerable groups through the Public Distribution System (PDS), as well as ingredients for the local production of nutritious food such as corn-soy milk, rice-milk blend and nutrient rich biscuits.
The new operation will be rolled out with a number of rigorous monitoring conditions, agreed with the DPRK authorities. More than 400 site visits by WFP international staff will take place every month, with only 24-hour notice required, including access to county and provincial markets. About a fifth of all international staff will be Korean-speaking.
As food supplies are needed immediately, WFP is looking to procure food in neighbouring countries, and use ports and rail entry points as close as possible to the areas where food is needed most urgently.
The new emergency operation is planned for one year, with continued assistance in the form of specialised nutritious products to selected groups continuing after the main October harvest. The cost will be just over US$200 million.
With DPRK’s continued vulnerability to natural disasters such as droughts and floods also a significant risk factor, WFP plans to have contingency stocks in available in the country to allow a rapid response to any new acute needs.
“WFP has worked in DPRK for 15 years and we will be drawing on all that experience and expertise to ensure this operation provides vital, timely food and nutrition to those who cannot support themselves through these difficult months,” Abdulla said.