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Report warns of increasing hunger in Korea DPR

Despite the high priority given to eliminating food shortages in Korea DPR caused by successive years of natural disasters and economic problems, much of the population faces the grim prospect of a continuing decline in nutritional standards, according to a recent FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission. In 1998, a nutrition survey carried out in Korea DPR by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the European Union revealed that over 60 percent of the children surveyed suffered from severe stunting resulting from inadequate nutrition. Although the FAO/WFP Mission notes a slight overall improvement in the nutritional situation, many regions of the country remain extremely vulnerable to food shortages.

"Irrespective of the incredibly high emphasis and care that is given to food production nationally, even under an optimistic weather scenario, food output this year will remain well below needs as productivity remains highly constrained by the lack of land and sufficient fertilizer and energy," the report says. The Mission estimates the country's minimum cereal needs to be 4.8 million tonnes. Farmers are expected to produce 3.8 million tonnes of cereals and another 300 000 tonnes will be commercially imported. Food aid accounts for an additional 642 000 tonnes. This leaves a cereal deficit of nearly 100 000 tonnes.

The Mission adds that North Koreans must have access not only to cereals, but to foods containing essential amino and fatty acids and micronutrients, such as beans and oils, to counter the damage done by severe nutritional deficiencies. "It is imperative that international food assistance be further diversified to include a higher provision of oils and proteins," says the report.

Food aid also needs to be better targeted to reach those groups and areas facing the most severe food shortages. The threat of food deficits is particularly acute in mountainous areas and industrial zones in the northeastern part of the country. Income from the industrial sector has declined sharply in recent years, and many families in these areas grew to rely almost entirely on food rations delivered through the Public Distribution System. However, these rations were discontinued in April of this year. As a result, many of the families, especially those who live far from agricultural areas, face tremendous difficulties in obtaining adequate nutrition.

In the longer term, rehabilitation of Korea DPR's agricultural infrastructure is critical to boost domestic food production and to increase the country's capacity to import food, inputs and energy. Steps taken so far to enhance national food production include greater crop diversification and the development of new crop varieties. Microbial fertilizers have also been introduced to lessen dependence on chemical fertilizers. The report concludes, "it is imperative that international support be provided for recovery and rehabilitation in agriculture to ensure longer term food security".

20 July 1999

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