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Possible Food Crisis Looms Over DPR Korea - WFP

Possible food crisis looms over DPR Korea, warns UN agency

16 April 2008 - The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned today that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) is facing a potential food crisis owing to a low harvest resulting partly from last summer's heavy floods.

"The food security situation in the DPRK is clearly bad and getting worse," said WFP's Regional Director for Asia, Tony Banbury. "It is increasingly likely that external assistance will be urgently required to avert a serious tragedy."

It is estimated that more than 6.5 million people in DPRK suffer from food insecurity, and that number is expected to increase unless the growing food shortages are addressed.

In addition to the poor harvest, DPRK, like many other countries around the world, is trying to cope with the recent surge in food prices. The prices of staple foods such as rice and maize have doubled in the capital, Pyongyang, over the past year and are now at their highest recorded levels since 2004.

"The rapid rise in the real price of food for persons living in the DPRK confirms WFP's fears that the DPRK may suffer deeper and more widespread hunger this year," said Jean-Pierre de Margerie, WFP Country Director in Pyongyang.

"Now it takes a third of a month's salary just to buy a few days worth of rice. Families and especially vulnerable persons will suffer from lack of access to food, eat fewer meals and have a poorer diet, increasing their vulnerability to diseases and illness," he stated. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has predicted a food shortfall of 1.66 million metric tons in the country this year - almost twice the 2007 deficit and the highest since 2001.

Until 2005, WFP was assisting over six million people in DPRK - some 25 per cent of the population. Since 2006, following a DPRK government decision to reduce its operation, WFP has been assisting 1.1 million of the most vulnerable persons, mainly women and children.

The agency plans to distribute 45,000 metric tons of food in 50 of the DPRK's 203 counties until August, when its food aid programme is scheduled to end.

"WFP stands ready to do its part to help the people of the DPRK meet their minimum food needs, and avoid a possible return to the tragic circumstances of the past," said Mr. Banbury. "But WFP cannot solve the problem on its own. The DPRK government needs to provide the necessary operating conditions for aid agencies so that donors have confidence that their donations will be used for the intended purposes. And donors need to do their part to ensure that the people of DPRK do not go hungry, or worse."

ENDS

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