Without fresh pledges, UN will have to halt food aid for millions in DPR of Korea

Without fresh pledges, UN will have to halt food aid for millions in DPR of Korea

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) will have to halt distribution to millions of hungry people in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) within weeks unless fresh pledges are made soon.

Already obliged to stop providing enriched vegetable oil to more than 900,000 elderly people, funding shortfalls will force WFP this week to suspend distribution of vegetable oil to 600,000 kindergarten and nursery children, and pregnant and nursing women. High in protein, vegetable oil is an essential promoter of physical and mental growth.

"We shouldn't have to choose between feeding hungry kids and feeding hungry elderly people, yet that is the decision we now face," WFP Director for Asia Tony Banbury said in Beijing at the weekend after a four-day visit to the DPRK, where the plight of the most vulnerable has been aggravated by an economic adjustment process.

"Many in the DPRK who desperately need our food will suffer even more if we don't get additional contributions fast. We're doing our best to mobilize support, but we need more help from the authorities in Pyongyang," he added, urging the Government to ease restrictions on monitoring aid that have undermined international support for the WFP operation.

Should resource shortfalls continue, at the beginning of May 1.2 million children and women will to be deprived of WFP pulses, a key source of scarce protein. And from June, nearly 1 million vulnerable people will have to go without supplementary rations of cereals, the agency's staple provision.

WFP's 2005 emergency operation seeks 500,000 tons of food, valued at $200 million, to help feed 6.5 million people deemed most at risk out of a population of 23 million. To date, some 215,000 tons worth $70 million have been secured, almost all of it committed last year.

"As things stand, we'll be scraping the bottom of the barrel within two months," Mr. Banbury said. "And we have almost no food in the pipeline for the second half of the year."

Economic changes, begun in mid-2002, have 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. Market prices of cereals tripled in 2004 and continue to increase.

Referring to the monitoring system, Mr. Banbury said: "It is imperative for WFP and our donors to have confidence that the food aid goes where it should: to the hungriest of the hungry." He hoped a new system agreed in principle by the Government would further improve the quality of monitoring and thereby boost donor support.