October 2003, Pyongyang/Rome -- Despite better
harvests this year, the Democratic People's Republic of
Korea (North Korea) will have another substantial food deficit
in 2004, requiring a large amount of external assistance, two
United Nations agencies said today.
combination of insufficient domestic production, the narrow and
inadequate diet of much of the population and growing
disparities in access to food as the purchasing power of many
households declines, means that some 6.5 million vulnerable
North Koreans will require assistance next year, according to a
joint report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
and World Food Programme (WFP).
situation remains "especially precarious" for
young children, pregnant and nursing women and many elderly
people, the Rome-based agencies warned.
report projected domestic cereal availability in the 2003/04
marketing season (November-October) at 4.16 million tonnes, 4.7
per cent up from the revised 2002/03 estimate of 3.97 million
The 2003 rice and maize harvests
each rose by an estimated 4.5 per cent over 2002, to 1.48
million tonnes (milled basis) and 1.73 million tonnes
respectively. The improvements were attributed to favourable
weather, a relatively low incidence of crop pests and diseases,
increased application of donated fertilizer andbetter
Forecasting total cereal needs
- food, animal feed and seeds - for 2003/04 at 5.1 million
tonnes, the FAO/WFP report projected an import requirement of
944,000 tonnes. Given anticipated commercial imports of 100,000
tonnes, concessional imports of 300,000 tonnes, and food aid
expected to be in stock or to arrive after 1 November, 2003 of
140,000 tonnes, the uncovered gap will be 404,000 tonnes.
Despite evidence of improved nutritional
levels in recent years, malnutrition rates remain
"alarmingly high", the report said. Four out
of ten young children suffer from chronic malnutrition, or
stunting, according to a large-scale, random sample survey
conducted in October 2002 by UNICEF and WFP. Continued, targeted
food aid interventions are essential to prevent a slippage back
towards previous, higher levels of malnutrition, the UN agencies
The economic policy adjustment
process initiated in July 2002 has led to many factories being
unable to pay full wages. Combined with food price increases
that were higher than increases in wages, this has caused a
further deterioration in the already inadequate purchasing power
of many households, especially in urban areas.
Rations from the Public Distribution System (PDS) - a
primary source of food for the 70 per cent of North Korea's
23 million people living in urban areas- are set to decline to
no more than 300 grams per person per day in 2004, from 319
grams this year, according to government authorities. The
present allocation ensures only half of an individual's
Low as the PDS
rations may be, industrial workers and elderly people now spend
up to 60 per cent of their income on these rations alone. After
paying for non-food necessities, they can ill-afford staples
such as rice and maize in private markets, where prices are as
much as 3.5 times higher, let alone more nutritious foods.
As the situation may worsen in the
immediate future, the report recommended that attention also be
given to the low-income PDS dependents in urban areas rendered
increasingly under-employed by economic adjustment process.
The FAO/WFP report urged that 484,000
tonnes of commodities, including 400,000 tonnes of cereals, be
sought as food aid for 2004 for the most vulnerable North
Koreans. Three-quarters of the total is earmarked for children
in nurseries, kindergartens, primary schools, orphanages and
hospitals, pregnant and nursing women and elderly people.
Despite improvements in the operating
environment for aid agencies, the report noted that there are
still restrictions on access to the needy and to marketsand
shops, reducing the scope for monitoring and the timely
detection of newly emerging food-insecure groups. But it also
says that the North Korean government has been more forthcoming
with information needed to assess household food security.
The report recommended that "in
addition to providing urgently needed food aid, the
international community enter with the government into a policy
dialogue to set an enabling framework to mobilise the economic,
financial and other assistance needed to promote sustainable
food production and overall food security."
FAO is the lead agency
in the United Nations system for agriculture, forestry,
fisheries and rural development. Since it was founded in 1945,
FAO has worked to alleviate poverty and hunger by promoting
agricultural development and the pursuit of food security.
WFP is the world's largest
humanitarian agency. In 2002 WFP fed 72 million people in 82
countries including most of the world's refugees and
internally displaced people.
School Feeding Campaign -- As the largest provider of nutritious
meals to poor school children, WFP has launched a global
campaign aimed at ensuring the world's 300 million
undernourished children are educated.