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N. Korea Facing Worst Food Crisis Since Late 1990s

DPR Korea facing worst food crisis since late 1990s - UN

30 July 2008 - A new United Nations assessment has found that millions of people in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) are experiencing the worst food crisis in almost a decade, owing to successive poor harvests coupled with soaring food prices.

"Millions of vulnerable North Koreans are at risk of slipping towards precarious hunger levels," Jean-Pierre de Margerie, Country Director for the UN World Food Programme (WFP) tolda news conference in Beijing today.

"The last time hunger was so deep and so widespread in parts of the country was in the late 1990s," he added.

A three-week Rapid Food Security Assessment (RFSA), conducted jointly by WFP and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in June, found that food production in DPRK has sharply dropped alongside declining food imports.

The drop in production, due to flooding in August 2007 and successive poor harvests, combined with high prices for staple foods have led to the largest food gap since 2001.

Covering 53 counties in eight provinces, the study was the most comprehensive assessment on food and nutrition conducted in DPRK since 2004. Among the key findings are that food availability, accessibility and utilization have deteriorated sharply since 2007, and that close to three quarters of households have reduced their food intake.

In addition, more malnourished and ill children are being admitted to hospitals and institutions, and diarrhoea caused by increased consumption of wild foods was one of the leading causes of malnutrition among children under the age of five.

Compounding the situation is the surge in food prices. Rice now costs almost three times more than a year ago, and maize has quadrupled.

"We've found that many more people are now scavenging for wild foods which provide little nourishment and are difficult to digest. Food assistance to reach the hungry is urgently needed," said Mr. de Margerie.

WFP has urgently expanded food distributions to reach 6.4 million - from the current 1.2 million it was already assisting - of the country's 23 million people. It is also planning a new $500 million operation to target the most vulnerable women, children and elderly people in eight of the country's ten provinces. The two remaining provinces, Chagang and North Phyongan, will be covered by a parallel food aid operation run by United States non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

ENDS

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