Press Release 97/23

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Press Release 97/23

NORTH KOREA ON THE BRINK OF STARVATION; FOOD RATIONS RUNNING OUT, UN MISSION REPORTS


ROME, 4 June 1997 -- A United Nations mission to North Korea reported today that the country’s food crisis is worsening rapidly and the last available government rations will run out by June 20.

The Food and Agriculture Organization/World Food Programme joint Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission said the country’s rations system “is now on the verge of collapse with no alternative mechanism available for to provide food.” The ration system has already ceased operation in half of the country’s 10 distribution areas.

According to the mission report: “The emergence of commonly recognized pre-famine indicators suggest that starvation will ensue in segments of the population before the next harvest, unless remedial action is taken urgently.”

The mission visited North Korea from 17 to 24 May to assess the prevailing food supply situation and review early prospects for 1997 food grain production following two years of destructive floods.

In meetings with government officials and representatives of UN and bilateral and non-governmental organizations and field visits to randomly selected areas of the country, the mission found that the situation had deteriorated sharply since a previous visit in November.

Following are the major findings of the mission’s report:
The food stocks of the Public Distribution System (PDS), on which most people rely, are expected to run out by late-June, and only limited quantities of commercial food imports arranged by barter are in the pipeline. “Without substantial imports, therefore, the failure of the PDS to supply food seems inevitable in a matter of weeks.”
Food aid supplied so far through the United Nations and Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and bilateral contributions have covered only a small part of the need.
For collective farm workers who do not receive PDS rations, household stocks are also near depletion as most received only an estimated 40 percent or less of normal cereal allocations at the last harvest.
Food rations distributed through the PDS have been only 100 to 200 grams per person per day since early this year, compared to a minimum requirement of 450 grams.
Malnutrition has become chronic and life-threatening and the incidence of dietary deficiencies and disease have increased.
In some households the mission visited, starvation related deaths were reported and symptoms of serious malnutrition were seen in a number of children and some adults.

Severe food problems and the institutional and household inability to deal with supply constraints has also resulted in the de facto establishment of ‘private’ food markets outside the public distribution system. These markets are now reported to exist in a number of areas where purchases of staples and other commodities can be made, albeit at phenomenally high prices which are beyond the reach of the majority of the population.

Early prospects for 1997 crops are favorable, reflecting early winter thaw in March and good rains since the beginning of May. Food production in 1997 will, nonetheless, continue to be seriously constrained by the lack of essential agricultural inputs. Even under an optimistic scenario, therefore, the production of maize and paddy is provisionally forecast at about 4 million tons, which will be substantially below requirements for the next marketing year.

In the short run immediate food assistance is required to avoid human suffering, together with donor support for the provision of agricultural inputs to increase food production. In the medium to long run, however, there is urgent need for the country to consider implementing appropriate and sustainable agricultural and economic strategies to counter food problems.


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