UN warns of worsening humanitarian situation in DPR of Korea

30 April 2002

The already severe humanitarian crisis in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) will worsen dramatically within weeks unless the international community pledges more aid immediately, the United Nations warned today.

The already severe humanitarian crisis in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) will worsen dramatically within weeks unless the international community pledges more aid immediately, the United Nations warned today.

"Unless donors act quickly, more than 6 million of the country's most vulnerable - primarily women, children and the elderly - may face acute and indeed life threatening shortages of food, basic medicines and clean drinking water," Kenzo Oshima, the head of the UN's humanitarian aid coordination office (OCHA) told a press conference this afternoon in New York, where he was joined by the heads of UN children and food aid agencies.

"Indeed a large segment of the DPRK, a country of some 22 million, suffers from the cumulative effects of chronic malnutrition, a fractured economic infrastructure, inadequate food production and deteriorating social services," he said.

Noting that last November the UN had asked donors for $258 million to respond to the country's most urgent humanitarian needs, Mr. Oshima said that to date only about $23.5 million had been received - less than 10 per cent of what was needed.

Carol Bellamy, the Executive Director of the UN Children's Fund, or UNICEF, said it was important to recognize that external donor assistance had in the past made a difference in the DPRK. Severe malnutrition had decreased significantly since the mid to late 1990s, she noted, but added that there was still widespread chronic malnutrition. Another success was the polio immunization campaign - the DPRK was expected to be certified polio-free along with the rest of the region.

Having seen this kind of improvement, the low donor funding was particularly troublesome, Ms. Bellamy noted. “Rather than providing vital drugs, we are forced to decide only what are the very vital drugs, and are unable to provide the drugs that we would have otherwise provided,” she said.

James T. Morris, head of the World Food Programme (WFP), added that substantial progress made in the area of nutrition was at risk of being undermined because of the shortfall. At the beginning of the year, WFP had put out an appeal for 600,000 tons of wheat, but had only received about half that amount.

If more aid was not forthcoming, he said, in May WFP would not be able to distribute food to more than 350,000 elderly people and 675,000 secondary school children. The agency would, however, continue providing food for orphans, young children and pregnant and nursing women.

 

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