WASHINGTON, DC - The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) today welcomed an announcement by the US government that it would donate 50,000 metric tons of agricultural commodities to the hungry in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
The US government said Wednesday that funding for the donation would come from the US Agency for International Development's PL-480 Title II program, and that the mix of donated commodities would be determined in consultation with WFP.
"We are grateful for the American contribution," said Judith Lewis, Director of US Relations for WFP. "It comes at a critical time: when already impoverished North Koreans are entering the hungry season before the harvests and WFP's in-country food stocks are running dangerously low.
"The US government has been the biggest donor to North Korea for the past decade," she added. "We hope this generous act will inspire other donors to step up and work to eliminate what is still a huge shortfall for 2005."
WFP, which is by far the largest humanitarian agency in DPRK, appealed for 504,000 metric tons of commodities, valued at US$202 million, to help feed 6.5 million North Koreans in 2005. Prior to the announcement of this latest pledge from the US, the agency had secured 240,000 tons of food aid, most of which had already been distributed and consumed.
A series of enforced ration cuts since March has deprived some two million children, women and elderly people of WFP pulses and oil - critical sources of fat and protein. This month, the agency will have to halt distribution of cereals, its staple commodity, to 3.6 million beneficiaries.
The country's chronic food deficit has been compounded by a sharp decline in purchasing power of the poor as North Korea tentatively undertakes market reforms.
In the past year, the market price of rice has gone up 300 percent, while maize is up by 400 percent. The average monthly wage of an urban worker - about one dollar - now buys only four kilograms of maize, the cheapest cereal.
The food crisis affects the poorest people and has been exacerbated by a cut in the ration the government provides to the 70 percent of North Korea's 23.5 million people living in urban areas. In January, the Public Distribution System allocation of subsidized cereals was reduced from an average of 300 grams per person a day to 250 grams - only 40 percent of the internationally recommended minimum caloric intake. Local officials say a further cut - to 200 grams - is imminent.
WFP's food crunch coincides with the start of the agricultural "lean season" - the four- to five-month period prior to the autumn rice and maize harvests when stocks of the previous year's crops rapidly run down.
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