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UN: Urgent Food Aid Needed For 6.5m North Koreans

UN Food Agency Appeals For Urgent Aid To Feed 6.5 Million In Dpr Of Korea

With its cereals stocks in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) all but exhausted and little in the pipeline, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today called for urgent international aid to help feed 6.5 million of the country's hungriest people.

"We are scraping the bottom of the barrel," Masood Hyder, WFP Representative for the DPRK, said in Beijing. "Over 4 million core beneficiaries - the most vulnerable children, women and elderly people - are now deprived of very vital rations.”

Noting that it was the middle of the harsh Korean winter, Mr. Hyder added, “We have sounded numerous early warnings to try to secure sufficient food promptly for hungry North Koreans. This warning needs to be heard, and quickly acted on."

Donors have recently pledged contributions amounting to some 77,000 tons but little of this will arrive before April, meaning that for the next two months, almost 4 million people will be deprived of cereals, which constitute a large share of the basic 'survival' ration. Only 75,000 child-bearing women and 8,000 children in orphanages and hospitals may receive WFP cereal distributions in February and March.

"Many of those we cannot help are only consuming two thirds of the calories they need," Mr. Hyder said. "Unless they get help very soon, the damage could be irreparable."

The funding crisis is also forcing the agency to drastically scale down food-for-work activities designed to support more than 2 million people this year, while WFP-assisted factories producing enriched foods for the malnourished are threatened with closure due to a shortage of donor-supplied ingredients.

Reduced donations have left WFP, by far the largest aid agency in the country, unable to feed many of its targeted recipients for much of the past two years. "Painstaking gains made in improving nutritional standards since the late 1990s risk being reversed," Mr. Hyder said. "That must not happen."

WFP 's 2004 operation seeks 485,000 tons of commodities valued at $171 million. So far, only 140,000 tons have been secured – and much less has been delivered. Steep increases in the prices of staples, the inability of many factories to pay full wages and widespread underemployment are making it more difficult for large segments of the 23-million population to cope, the agency added.

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