N. Korean Food Program Needs Funds to Continue to 2009, UN Says

Emma O’Brien

The United Nations program to feed about a quarter of North Korea’s 24 million people needs funds to operate until 2009, after countries such as the U.S. ended or reduced their support, the head of the World Food Program said.

“We only have 16 percent of the funds needed to do our work in North Korea over the next two years,” James T. Morris said late yesterday in Wellington, New Zealand. “The U.S. used to be our largest donor in North Korea, but we haven’t received any money from them for the past 8 to 9 months.”

More than 1 million people died in North Korea during the 1990s as a result of famine caused by drought, floods and economic mismanagement. North Korea’s international isolation deepened last October when the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions after the communist country tested its first nuclear bomb.

The North Korea government said in 2005 it no longer needed the UN program that aimed to feed about 6.5 million people because it succeeded in harvesting enough grain. Floods last year reduced grain production by an estimated 90,000 metric tons, almost one-fifth of the minimum harvest needed to feed the population, the WFP said at the time.

“I am very concerned about the situation in North Korea,” Morris said, as the country’s crop deficit is forecast to be 1 million tons this year. “We are not able to do our job unless there is additional support to provide food.”

Morris, who will leave the directorship of the WFP early this year after 5 years at the helm, was in Wellington for talks with New Zealand’s aid agency, NZAID, on food aid to East Timor. His speech to the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs was his last on an international visit.

The WFP and its sister agencies, the UN Development Program and the UN children’s fund Unicef, are the only major non- governmental organizations still active in North Korea.

Government Restrictions

North Korea is the only country in the world where the UN program has to work through the government. The administration chooses all their local workers and all food has to be distributed via government-selected contractors.

“It’s the only place in the world where we don’t have universal access,” Morris said. “The government makes life very difficult for our work.”

The program used to distribute to 183 counties in North Korea. The government now restricts them to 29. Constraints placed on the program by the government are “abhorrent and unacceptable,” he said.

The average 7-year-old North Korean boy is 8 inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter than his South Korean counterpart, Morris said, and 40 percent of North Korean women are anemic.

Russia, China

Russia is now the largest contributor to North Korean aid, Morris said. The U.S. provided about 47 percent of all contributions, in both commodities and funds, over the past 10 years. The WFP, the UN’s largest division, had an operating budget of more than $2.8 billion last year, he said.

China and South Korea, which send food directly to North Korea, are also scaling down their aid.

“They intend to reduce their bilateral food and fertilizer assistance,” Morris said, adding China’s toughened stance toward North Korea since the missile test may be behind the move.

China, North Korea’s closest ally, supported the UN sanctions imposed after the nuclear test that ban sales of military equipment and luxury goods to the country. The U.S. imposed financial restrictions on North Korean bank accounts in October 2005 over allegations of money laundering and counterfeiting.

The issue stalled talks between North Korea, the U.S., China, Japan, South Korea and Russia on dismantling North Korea’s nuclear program. The forum resumed in December after a 13-month break with North Korea refused to enter discussions within the six-nation forum until the U.S. lifts the sanctions.

The six nations will hold another round of talks in Beijing beginning Feb. 8.


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