Starvation threatens as food stocks dwindle in Korea DPR

"Starvation will ensue in segments of North Korea before the next harvest unless remedial action is taken urgently," warns a Special Alert issued 3 June, following a joint FAO/World Food Programme assessment mission to the Asian nation. The mission visited randomly selected areas in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in late May to assess the food supply situation and review early prospects for 1997 food grain production following two years of devastating floods.

North Korea's Public (Food) Distribution System (PDS), on which most of the population relies, "is now on the verge of collapse with no alternative mechanism available to provide food," reported the FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission. According to government estimates, half of the country's ten distribution areas have ceased to operate and the last available government rations are expected to run out by late June. Since early this year, daily cereal rations distributed by PDS have been maintained at between 100 and 200 grams per person - the recommended daily mimimum requirement is 450 grams.

Several households visited by the mission reported deaths caused by starvation. A number of children and adults exhibited symptoms of wasting, odema and possibly kwashiorkor as a result of protein deficiency. Some farm families not covered by the PDS have been reduced to subsisting on alternative foods such as grasses and roots, as food stocks near exhaustion.

The mission advocates urgent international food assistance as the only way to avoid a large-scale human catastrophe. However, only limited quantities of commercial food imports arranged by barter are foreseen and food aid pledged or delivered to date through bilateral, United Nations and NGO sources will cover only a small part of estimated requirements. The country has a large cereal deficit of about 1.2 million tonnes for the current marketing year.

Donor support is urgently required, not only to deliver massive food assistance to meet minimum food needs, but also to provide essential agricultural inputs to enhance food security. In the medium to long term, chronic underlying problems in the agricultural sector must be addressed and the report urges the government to consider undertaking a sectorial review with UN assistance so that similar food crises can be avoided in the future.

An early thaw and good rains since the beginning of May have favoured early prospects for 1997 crops. Maize and paddy production are predicted to reach as much as 4 million tonnes this year, but will still fall substantially below requirements. The lack of essential agricultural inputs will continue to restrain food production.

Areas visited by the joint FAO/WFP mission were located in the counties of Kumchon and Pyongsan in North Hwanghae Province and Sunchon in South Pyongan Province - agriculturally important southwest parts of the country - and Tongsin and Songwon counties in the northern province of Chagang.

10 June 1997

GIEWS Special Alert

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