Aid body warns of food crisis in North Korea


NORTH KOREA: The World Food Programme (WFP) has warned of a food crisis in North Korea unless fresh donor pledges come from the international community in weeks.

The warning came from the WFP regional director for Asia, Mr John Powell, who said yesterday a break in food aid would seriously disrupt WFP efforts to alleviate hunger and reduce malnutrition amongst the most vulnerable in the country - pregnant and nursing women, children and the elderly.

Speaking in Beijing after a two-week assessment tour of North Korea, Mr Powell said there was only food in stock to feed people until July. He predicted a major crisis from mid-year unless the WFP was promised additional contributions.

He said while people on food assistance were currently receiving 300 grammes of maize or rice per day, that was likely to drop to 200 grammes per day in the next two months due to shortage. "Pledges don't translate into food tomorrow. Once a pledge is made it takes two to four months to get that food into the stomach of a hungry child."

He said the WFP emergency programme needed an additional 368,000 tonnes of cereals and other commodities to meet its needs.

During his visit to North Korea, Mr Powell visited schools, hospitals and orphanages. He said there were signs of an improvement in the condition of children in the last year. In one school he visited he was told that attendance had jumped from 75 per cent to 95 per cent thanks to the distribution of WFP nutrition biscuits. Attendance by teachers also increased for the same reasons.

Acute malnutrition is highest among infants and young children, who are also the most prone to long-term damage from inadequate nutrition.

According to the WFP North Korean monitor for February, temperate weather conditions in the traditionally harsh winter month continued to cause concern for the winter and spring crop harvest.

Mr Powell said every available piece of land was being used to cultivate crops and food. "I saw farmers preparing land on slopes for crops. This is land that is totally unsuitable."

He said in urban areas people living in apartments were sowing crops right up to the apartment doors.