Funding shortfall forces UN agency to cut off food aid to millions

Up to 4.5 million people in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) may be deprived of winter rations because a slump in donations will force the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) to halt its emergency cereal distribution operation there, the agency warned today. “Such across-the-board cutbacks would cause acute suffering on a massive scale,” WFP Country Director for the DPRK Rick Corsino said. “As we head into the harsh North Korean winter, those affected will find it very difficult to cope. The tragedy is that the people most at risk stand to bear the entire burden. They are already on the edge.” The initial WFP ration stoppages will be felt by 3 million recipients in the relatively better-off western and southern provinces over the next two months. A further 1.5 million more in the struggling, industrial east are threatened by still avoidable cut-offs from the beginning of next year. WFP said it urgently needs more than 100,000 tons of cereals to cover its requirements through the remainder of 2002 and January 2003. “Even the most prompt of pledges would not translate into food in a hungry person’s bowl for at least two months,” Mr. Corsino said. “Yet if commitments were made now, they could prevent this crisis escalating dramatically. We urge donors to do their utmost to limit the damage.” Those deprived of WFP assistance are all but entirely dependent on the government-run Public Distribution System, traditionally the main channel for food to most of the country’s 23 million people. That system currently provides an average of 300 grams a day to those on its books – less than half the internationally recommended minimum intake – and its rations are expected to increase only slightly from next month with the harvesting of the main rice and maize crops. Droughts, floods and tropical storms have been exacerbating agricultural and industrial problems in the DPRK since WFP launched its first emergency operation in 1995. The country posts sizeable food deficits each year, and remains a long way from self-sufficiency. Government statistics indicate that 45 per cent of North Korean children under five are chronically malnourished, while a further 4 million school-aged children are also severely underfed, impairing their capacity to grow physically and mentally. The nutritional status of some 500,000 pregnant and nursing women is also very poor, according to the official data. read more

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