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Breakthrough: UN resumes food aid in DPR of Korea

In breakthrough agreement, UN agency to resume food aid in DPR of Korea

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said today it would resume aid in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) within two weeks after reaching an accord in months of negotiations on new working arrangements, including some on-site monitoring, following the Government’s decision last year to end emergency assistance.

“This is an important breakthrough. WFP and the DPRK have agreed on the terms of implementation for our new operation,” WFP’s Regional Director for Asia Tony Banbury said in Beijing after a two-day visit to the DPRK during which he signed the $102-million two-year deal to support 1.9 million people, mostly women and children.

He appealed to international donors to contribute. Over the past decade the DPRK has suffered the effects of devastating droughts and floods as well as the impact of economic changes that led to a steep rise in market prices of basic foods and sharply lower incomes for millions of factory workers made redundant or employed part-time

WFP ended 10 years of emergency aid - during which it mobilized more than 4 million tons of food valued at $1.7 billion to support up to one-third of the population of 23 million - in December after the Government, citing better harvests and domestic concerns about the emergence of a dependency culture and the intrusiveness of monitoring, said it would accept only assistance addressing medium- and long-term needs.

In February the Agency drew up plans for the new operation, which Executive Director James Morris said depended on reaching agreement on issues such as access to people in need and the ability to monitor donations.

“We have worked hard to reach this point, now we have signed the deal, and we can re-start our food aid operations immediately,” Mr. Banbury said of the accord, which provides for 10 resident international staff to oversee the operation, four of them full-time field workers, while others such as the Country Director will regularly travel to the field.

WFP staff will visit beneficiary hospitals, orphanages, nurseries, kindergartens, primary schools, Public Distribution Centres and food-for-work sites to assess the impact of assistance and the nutritional status of recipients.

“We have negotiated the best possible terms under the circumstances. It’s not everything we wanted, but it’s a sound base to get started on again - and to build on. WFP will maintain our long-standing policy of ‘no access, no food.’ We have made that clear to the government,” Mr. Banbury said.

“WFP will still reach more North Koreans and have better field access than any other aid agency in the DPRK. A continued presence will allow us to scale up the level of support, if that becomes necessary. In the end, we decided that it was better to stay in North Korea and help 1.9 million people under the new circumstances, than to walk away and leave behind people who really needed our assistance,” he added.

While malnutrition rates have fallen considerably since the late 1990s, they are still relatively high. The most recent large-scale survey, conducted in October 2004 by WFP, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Government, found that 37 per cent of young children were chronically malnourished, and one-third of mothers both malnourished and anaemic.

Many North Koreans struggle to feed themselves on a diet critically deficient in protein, fats and micronutrients, and the new operation will combat this shortfall and boost grassroots food security, building on gains achieved during the decade of emergency aid.

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