World Food Programme Operations in North Korea Underfunded

09/09/2011 - The World Food Programme, which hopes to provide food aid to 3.5 million people in North Korea is underfunded, but is still working on getting assistance to orphans and vulnerable children in need.

Today, the World Food Programme (WFP) released a new video on the state of food insecurity in North Korea, known formally as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

"It is the World Food Programme who is here in order to assure and to do fact-finding missions in order to reliably  tell the international community that the help is, first of all, needed, and second, that it reaches the children that it's meant for," said an individual in the video who was not expressly identified,.

The Rome-based United Nations (UN) agency has warned that the number of malnourished children in the country's hospitals is on the rise. Though more shipments are expected in the coming months (September and October), the agency's operations remain chronically underfunded.

Recent flooding, says the agency, does not seem to have damaged farmland in a widespread pattern. Still, it is too early to determine the impact on households facing chronic food insecurity. Though the WFP hopes to provide food aid to  3.5 million North Koreans, it has been able to feed only half the people targeted. Only about 30 per cent of the WFP's emergency relief appeal has been funded.

The WFP began its emergency operations in North Korea in April of this year when a harsh winter caused a decline in agricultural output as bilateral aid and humanitarian assistance also fell. The agency's funding shortage is complicated by the fact that North Korean factories don't have the supplies needed to manufacture nutrient-packed biscuits important to fighting malnutrition.

The assistance programme in North Korea targets the most vulnerable women, children and elderly persons in the country's most food-insecure regions. At present, the WFP is concentrating its efforts by prioritizing orphans, hospitalized children, young schoolchildren as well as expecting mothers.

In late March, the WFP, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) published a special report on the Rapid Food Security Assessment Mission to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. To make its assessment, the mission interviewed government representatives, cooperative farms, grain storage facilities and Public Distribution Centres, hospitals, paediatric wards and orphanages. A total on 122 rural and urban households were interviewed.

According to the report, there were, at the time, approximately 12,000 highly-vulnerable children living in orphanages and 14,000 patients staying in paediatric wards. Among the response options the joint report considered, were making cereals and blended foods available to orphaned children living in baby homes, child centres and boarding schools. Assistance to support paediatric patients was also recommended, as these children require extra nutrients to recover quickly.

The mission further found that the Public Distribution System would run out of food at the start of North Korea's lean seas (May, June and July), which would "substantially increase the risk of malnutrition and other diseases, particularly in food deficit counties."

In May, it was reported that some 6 million North Koreans (an estimated quarter of the population) were in urgent need of food assistance from the global community. By July, the WFP had reported that malnutrition was a problem affecting many  children. With food shortages creeping up, people were said to be relying more on wild vegetables and other food collected from the hillsides. These foods have formed part of the traditional Korean diet, but are not good young children, who do not have the digestive capabilities to process them. As such, children were suffering from severe diarrhoea and its consequences.

One doctor of the Janpgpung Hospital explained that the majority of hospital admissions in the weeks preceding the WFP's early July news report came from communities dependant on the Public Distribution System, which was only able to provide a third of the usual cereal rations in May. In June, this portion was reduced to a quarter. At one hospital, the WFP is providing a rice-milk blend that can have meat, fish or other high-nutrient foods added to it in order to help children recover.