Food Storages at WFP and DPRK

According to the Washington Post:

A severe food shortage has crippled the U.N. feeding program that sustains North Korea’s most vulnerable and undernourished people, according to Masood Hyder, the U.N. humanitarian aid coordinator and World Food Program representative in Pyongyang.

He said his organization can now feed fewer than 100,000 of the 6.5 million people it normally does, many of them kindergarten-age children and pregnant women who cannot get what they need to stay healthy from the country’s distribution system.

The food shortages are likely to hang in the air as North Korean, U.S., South Korean, Chinese, Russian and Japanese diplomats gather in Beijing Feb. 25 to discuss North Korea’s incipient nuclear weapons program and respond to its demand for formal security guarantees and more economic aid.

Japan, for instance, used to provide 300,000 tons of food a year but has stopped shipments because of disagreement with Pyongyang over Japanese citizens abducted and taken to North Korea for training as spies in the 1970s and 1980s, the diplomat said.

South Korea and China run government-to-government aid programs for North Korea, outside the World Food Program, but the level of their current shipments is not known. Masood estimated that such aid is roughly equal to the multilateral aid administered by the U.N. agency for the neediest people.

The last shipment arrived in North Korea in September, when South Korea sent a boatload of corn, Masood said. The next shipment, 38,000 tons of corn from the United States, is due at the end of March, he added. The six-month break has dried up a supply chain crucial for more than a fourth of North Korea’s 23 million people, particularly those not given the benefits of the million-strong military and government employees.

“That means people are without food at the worst time, in the dead of winter,” Masood said. “A little slippage in deliveries, and it’s a tragedy.”

The shortages are not expected to produce widespread starvation of the kind that devastated parts of North Korea in the mid-1990s, according to U.N., Japanese and other Asian officials. But Masood predicted they will intensify and spread malnutrition. Food shortages already produce stunted growth in four out of 10 North Korean students and allow pregnant women to gain only half of the 22 pounds they are expected to gain to give birth to healthy babies.

This winter’s shortage is likely to reverse for many people the progress made since the disaster a decade ago.

Some orphanages have started serving two meals a day instead of three because of the shortages, Masood said. Although North Koreans traditionally eat rice as their staple, the U.N. program provides mainly wheat, corn and edible plant seeds, which are used to make bread or gruel.

Normal deliveries of such grains take about three months from the time a government decides to donate to the food’s arrival in North Korea and its distribution to areas where people are going hungry. The World Food Program has asked for 485,000 tons this year but has received less than a third of that in pledges — and a small fraction in deliveries.

Masood said his main hope is that food shipments headed elsewhere could be rerouted to North Korea or that the North Korean government could be persuaded to dip into its strategic reserves of rice and other food.

“Statistically, they have food,” the Asian diplomat said. “It depends on how quickly the North Korean government diverts food from some other groups.”

Reluctance to help North Korea this winter stems in part from donor governments’ traditional end-of-year budget pinches. But it also reflects frustration over Kim’s refusal to abandon the country’s nuclear program and unwillingness to allow U.N. or other outside inspectors to fully monitor what happens to the aid.

The secrecy has caused some donor governments to suspect that the food aid might be diverted to the military or government employees. Monitoring is “less than effective” because of the restrictions, Masood acknowledged. But he expressed skepticism that U.N. food was ending up in army or government cupboards because, he said, officials have first call on government-to-government aid and North Korea’s own rice harvest.

Another problem is that North Korean food shortages have become chronic over the last decade so they no longer cause alarm. As long as Kim’s government clings to a system unable to produce enough food, the Asian diplomat said, people wonder why their tax money should be spent to make up the difference.



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