29 July 2002 The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) urgently needs new foreign assistance to help plug a food gap threatening millions of its most vulnerable citizens ahead of the main harvests this autumn, warns a new United Nations report released today.
Despite improved crop yields this year, food aid shipments must be increased to prevent the poorest sections of the population from facing extreme hardship in the coming months, according to the report prepared by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP). “The safety net being provided by targeted food assistance cannot be removed at this stage without a sharp rise in malnutrition,” the agencies say.
The country has suffered widespread food shortages for many years, with natural disasters such as floods and droughts aggravating the adverse effects of a dire shortage of arable land and agricultural inputs, poor soils, severe economic problems and infrastructural deficiencies.
In the face of such problems, however, production of winter-spring wheat, barley and potatoes this year reached 441,000 tons of cereal equivalent, two-and-a-half times last year’s drought-affected output of 172,000 tons and 34 per cent higher than the previous four years’ average of 328,000 tons, the report says.
Although the UN agencies have forecast a 42 per cent jump in overall production for the year, the DPRK still faces an uncovered food deficit of 382,000 tons for July through October because the country’s domestic production remains well below minimum consumption requirements, its capacity to import commercially is limited, and aid pledges by the international community have been slow in coming this year.
“Further reductions in [WFP’s] programme will be inevitable unless urgent action is taken within the donor community to mobilize additional resources,” the report warns, pointing out that the agency was unable to begin food distributions earlier this year to nearly 1 million people in the country because of the shortfall.