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Published:March 28th, 2007 05:52 EST

Concerned at food shortfall in DPR Korea, UN agency seeks to increase aid

By SOP newswire

Facing a huge shortfall in the $102 million it has already sought to feed up to 1.9 million especially vulnerable people in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today appealed for an immediate increase in funding from donor nations just to avert a further deterioration of the situation.

“We are losing ground in the struggle against hunger in the DPRK,” WFP Asia Regional Director Tony Banbury said at the end of six-day visit during which Government officials indicated that the country faced a shortfall of 1 million metric tons of food.

“Last year’s harvest was smaller due in part to summer flooding and that, combined with major reductions in international assistance, has left millions of North Koreans more vulnerable to food insecurity. People are going hungry as we head into the lean season. It’s time for WFP and the donors to respond,” he added.

Despite steady improvements after the famine years of the mid to late 1990s, having enough to eat is still a daily struggle for one-third to one-half of the 23 million North Koreans. In 2006, the situation again started to deteriorate because of June and August flooding of critical cropland and major reductions in WFP and bilateral food aid.

WFP ended 10 years of emergency aid during which it mobilized more than 4 million tons of food valued at $1.7 billion in 2005 after the Government, citing better harvests and concerns about the emergence of a dependency culture and the intrusiveness of monitoring, said it would accept only aid addressing medium- and long-term needs.

But last May WFP reached an agreement with the Government on new working arrangements, including some on-site monitoring, for the $102-million two-year deal. But to date, donations amount to less than 20 per cent of that amount.

“The Government officials I met indicated a new openness toward an increase of food assistance for the DPRK through WFP,” Mr. Banbury said on his return to Beijing from Pyongyang, the DPRK capital.

“I am concerned about the well-being of the people we are supposed to be helping but are not able to reach due to lack of resources, and I am concerned about millions more who need our help, who struggle to feed themselves day in and day out. Increased WFP food assistance would help address the pressing needs of the children and pregnant and nursing women that WFP is trying to help, but only if we get much-needed contributions soon,” he added.

During visit Mr. Banbury spent three days in North Phyongan province and visited 12 WFP food delivery sites, an orphanage, a child centre, a paediatric hospital and a boarding school.