The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) continues to face a wide range of food and nutrition security challenges, which add to the protracted humanitarian situation in the country. Agriculture annually falls short of meeting food needs, due to shortages of arable land, lack of access to modern agricultural equipment and fertilizers, and recurrent natural disasters.
Droughts, floods, typhoons and heatwaves continue to affect the country every year, causing soil leeching, erosion, landslides and damage to crops and infrastructure. Even minor disasters can significantly reduce agricultural production and the availability of food, stressing communities’ already limited coping capacities. In late 2018 a severe heat wave in the provinces considered to be the ‘food basket’ of the country pushed temperatures 11 degrees higher than average. This was followed in late August 2018 by Typhoon Soulik that brought heavy rains to South Hamgyong and Kangwon provinces, as well as flash floods to North and South Hwanghae provinces.
Economic and political issues add further difficulties, with restrictions on international trade and investments imposed by the United Nations Security Council.
The strong link between food insecurity and malnutrition means any negative impact on agriculture and food production has widespread and long-lasting consequences, and compounds the already widespread undernutrition that affects millions in the country.
According to the 2019 Needs and Priorities report, an estimated 11 million people – or more than 40 percent of the population - are undernourished and require humanitarian assistance. Many people suffer from chronic malnutrition due to lack of essential proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals. Despite encouraging improvements in levels of chronic malnutrition at the national level, many rural areas continue to face a nutrition crisis, with rates as high as 40 percent in some areas, according to the 2017 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) conducted by UNICEF and the Government.
Those living outside towns and cities have worse diets, with many relying on rural relatives, improvised ‘kitchen gardens’ or market activities to supplement the food they receive through the Government’s Public Distribution System (PDS). The PDS consistently provides lower food rations than the Government’s daily target.
Poor nutrition is particularly problematic for young children, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers, as good nutrition is crucial in a child’s early years. Rates of stunting (low height for age) among children under 5 are moderate to high, with one in four children affected.
The World Food Programme (WFP) has been providing food assistance in DPRK since 1995, saving lives and making significant progress in reducing levels of child malnutrition.
What the World Food Programme is doing in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea
Each month, WFP provides specialized nutritious food to around a million pregnant women, nursing mothers and children, helping to reduce acute and chronic malnutrition. These fortified foods include blended cereals or biscuits with added protein, vitamins and minerals, which boost the micronutrients, fats and proteins in people’s daily diets. WFP targets this assistance to supported institutions including nurseries, hospitals, paediatric wards and some boarding schools. WFP also provides support to the factories that produce fortified foods.
DIsaster risk reduction
When possible, WFP works to reduce communities’ vulnerability to climate shocks with disaster risk-reduction measures. This helps mitigate climate risk, reduce the need for humanitarian action and contribute to food security by addressing threats to agricultural land and production. Activities – which include repairing embankments, dredging rivers, planting trees and improving soils to restore and protect the environment – also support training, especially among women, creating temporary employment and supplementing families’ food stocks
On the occasion of major droughts in 2014 and 2015, humanitarian partners responded providing life-saving assistance to 1.3 million people. Severe flooding in August 2015 and August 2016 also required significant humanitarian interventions. WFP maintains the capacity to provide in-kind emergency food assistance to crisis and disaster-affected communities when required, ensuring those affected have access to food in times of emergency.