US sends fourth aid shipment

UPDATE: According to Yonhap, the aid shipment has left Virginia:

The latest food aid from the United States to North Korea, comprised of 25,000 tons of corn and other grains, has made its departure from the U.S. state of Virginia, a U.S. radio station reported Saturday.

The Mary-Ann Hudson, a U.S. cargo vessel carrying 20,000 tons of corn and 5,000 tons of beans, left from Norfolk, Virginia, on Friday and is scheduled to arrive at North Korea’s western port of Nampo on Nov. 18, Radio Free Asia reported, citing a spokesperson of World Vision.

In June, the U.S. started shipping the first batch of some 500,000 tons of food aid, which it pledged to deliver to the North over a year-long period, through the World Food Programme (WFP).

Previous shipments were organized by the WFP, but the latest round is conducted jointly by relief organization World Vision and four other relief agencies, according to the spokesperson.

Since the late 1990s, when an estimated 1-3 million North Koreans starved to death, the North has prioritized its agricultural sector while accepting foreign aid to help feed its population of 23 million people. (Yonhap, Latest U.S. grain shipment to N.K. departs, 10-19-2008)

ORIGINAL POST: Press release from Mercy Corps (10/16/2008):

A fourth shipment of U.S. food aid for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea sails this week to be distributed by five humanitarian agencies delivering urgent assistance to North Koreans suffering from severe food shortages. The commodities are scheduled to arrive before winter.

More than 894,000 of North Korea’s most vulnerable people – mainly children, pregnant and nursing mothers, and the elderly – will receive daily rations from this shipment of 25,060 metric tons of bulk corn and soy. The distributions are conducted in two North Korean provinces, led by Mercy Corps with World Vision as co-lead. Samaritan’s Purse, Global Resource Services and Christian Friends of Korea are the partner agencies.

“This new shipment of food will bring critical sustenance to many hungry people in North Korea,” said Nancy Lindborg, president of Mercy Corps. “We are very pleased with our success in getting food to needy people for the past few months, and are confident that efficient food distributions will continue into the winter.”

On arrival at the western port of Namp’o in the latter half of November, the food will be rationed to recipients through public distribution centers, orphanages, school, hospitals and nurseries in Chagang and North Pyongan Provinces. The program, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) office of Food for Peace, is the first U.S. food assistance program for North Korea since 2000.

“With North Korea’s people in a precarious situation facing low food stocks and the onset of a harsh winter, our primary concern is the country’s most vulnerable groups, children and mothers especially,” said George Ward, senior vice president of international programs for World Vision in the U.S. “We are moving urgently to ensure this assistance reaches those in most need at a critical time.”

The NGO partnership is on track to distribute 100,000 metric tons of the food aid during the year-long program, reaching 895,000 people, while the World Food Programme (WFP) is distributing another 400,000 metric tons in U.S. assistance. This week’s shipment is the first one entirely allotted for the NGO partnership to dispense.

The lack of food in North Korea became severe this year as floods devastated harvests, China erected barriers to food exports, and prices skyrocketed globally for staples such as rice and maize. In a June 2008 assessment, a team of experts from the partner agencies confirmed findings of food shortages and acute needs in North Korea. Malnourishment was prevalent, rations were reduced, and food stocks were dwindling. Separately, the WFP projected a shortage of 1.66 million metric tons of food, relative to the population’s needs.

The U.S. food assistance program includes clear provisions for monitoring distributions and conducting ongoing needs assessments. The partnership of humanitarian agencies has a staff of 16 based in the DPRK for the duration of the program to monitor activities continually and conduct random visits to distribution points.

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