The governing Executive Board of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today approved a two-year plan to build on the agency’s decade-long record of humanitarian assistance to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) by tackling nutritional deficiencies and chronic hunger.
But at the same time WFP Executive Director James Morris warned that the agency would be forced to withdraw if it could not reach agreement with the Government on issues such as access to people in need and the ability to monitor donations.
Valued at $102 million and requiring 150,000 tons of commodities for 1.9 million people, the plan aims to provide vitamin and mineral enriched foods produced in-country to children and women of child-bearing age, and cereal rations to underemployed communities to build and rehabilitate agricultural and other community assets.
“We remain very concerned about the nutritional status of children in DPRK, so I appreciate this decision by our Executive Board, which will allow us to build on the progress we have achieved,” Mr. Morris said of the decision by the 36-nation governing board at WFP’s Rome headquarters. “The world, and DPRK, is a better place because of our presence in the country.”
Several Board members expressed strong concerns about the restrictions on monitoring and access that the DPRK government has imposed, including a reduction in the number of both international staff from a peak of 46 to just 10, and of monitoring visits from approximately 400 per month to a much more limited number.
“WFP shares these concerns and has worked hard to negotiate improved conditions for our operation,” Mr. Morris, who visited the DPRK capital Pyongyang in December, told the Executive Board. “We now look to the government of the DPRK to agree to conditions that will allow us to do our work properly, for the sake of the people who need our help. If we cannot reach a suitable final agreement on our operating conditions, we will be forced to withdraw.”
WFP ended 10 years of emergency assistance to the DPRK on 31 December after the government, citing better harvests and domestic concerns about the emergence of a dependency culture and the “intrusiveness” of the agency’s monitoring, declared it would in the future accept only assistance that addressed medium and long-term needs.
Executive Board approval is just the first step in the process of resuming food aid to DPRK. WFP and the government must now agree upon details of implementation – including the number of staff, access to beneficiaries, and ability to monitor assistance – to be formalized in a letter of understanding. Before food distribution can restart, additional funds from donor countries will also be needed.
Past WFP operations mobilized more than 4 million tons of commodities valued at $1.7 billion, supported up to one-third of the population of 23 million and contributed to a significant reduction in malnutrition rates.