Archive for the ‘UNICEF’ Category

DPRK 2011 food shortage debate compendium

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

UPDATE (2012-2-1): Karin Lee of the National Committee on North Korea wrote a great summary of the DPRK’s food situation in 2011:

In December 2010, North Korea began asking multiple countries for food aid. Its request to the U.S. came in early 2011, but it wasn’t until December 2011 that a deal seemed close, with the U.S. prepared to provide 240,000 metric tons (MTs) of assistance. Kim Jong Il died soon after this news hit the press, and details of the potential deal were never announced.

In the ideal world, Ronald Reagan’s “hungry child” knows no politics. But the case of North Korea is far from ideal. The U.S. government states it does not take politics into consideration when determining whether to provide aid to North Korea. Instead, the decision is based on three criteria: need in North Korea, competing demands for assistance, and the ability to monitor aid effectively. Yet these three criteria are subjective and tinged by politics.

In 2011 a succession of four assessment delegations (one by U.S. NGOs, one by the U.S. government, one by the EU and one by the UN) visited the DPRK. All found pretty much the same thing: widespread chronic malnutrition, especially among children and pregnant or lactating women, and cases of acute malnutrition. The UN confirmed the findings late last year, reporting chronic malnutrition in children under five in the areas visited — 33% overall, and 45% in the northern part of the country.

Some donors responded quickly. For example, shortly after its July assessment, the EU announced a 10 Million Euro donation. Following its own May assessment, however, the U.S. government was slow to make a commitment. Competing demands may have played a role. In July, the predicted famine in the Horn of Africa emerged, prompting a U.S. response of over $668 million in aid to “the worst food crisis in half a century.” While there was no public linkage between U.S. action on the African famine and inaction on North Korea, there could have been an impact.

But the two biggest factors shaping the U.S. government’s indecisiveness continued to be uncertainty about both the severity of the need and the ability to establish an adequate monitoring regime. At times, South Korean private and public actors questioned the extent of the North’s need. Early on, a lawmaker in South Korea asserted that North Korea already had stockpiled 1,000,000 metric tons of rice for its military. Human rights activist Ha Tae Keung argued that North Korea would use the aid contributed in 2011 to augment food distributions in 2012 in celebration of the 100th birthday of Kim Il Sung and North Korea’s status as a “strong and prosperous nation.” According to Yonhap, shortly after the U.N. released the above-noted figures, South Korean Unification Minister Yu Woo-Ik called the food situation in North Korea not “very serious.”

South Korea’s ambivalence about the extent of the food crisis was noted by Capitol Hill, exacerbating congressional reluctance to support food aid. A letter to Secretary Clinton sent shortly before the U.S. assessment trip in May began with Senators Lieberman, McCain, Webb and Kyl explaining they shared South Korean government suspicions that food aid would be stockpiled and requesting State to “rigorously” evaluate any DPRK request for aid. With the close ROK-U.S. relationship one of the administration’s most notable foreign policy accomplishments, such a warning may have carried some weight.

Monitoring is of equal, if not greater congressional concern. Since the 1990s U.S. NGOs and USAID have worked hard with DPRK counterparts to expand monitoring protocols, and conditions have consistently improved over time. In the 2008/2009 program, the first food program funded by the U.S. government since 2000, the DPRK agreed to provisions such as Korean-speaking monitors. The NGO portion of the program was fairly successful in implementing the monitoring protocol; when implementation of the WFP portion hit some bumps, USAID suspended shipments to WFP until issues could be resolved. The DPRK ended the program prematurely in March 2009 with 330,000 MT remaining.

In 2011 the Network for North Korean Human Rights and Democracy conducted a survey of recent defectors to examine “aid effectiveness” in the current era. Out of the 500 interviewees, 274 left the DPRK after 2010. However, only six were from provinces where NGOs had distributed aid in 2008/2009. Disturbingly, of the 106 people interviewees who had knowingly received food aid, 29 reported being forced to return food. Yet the report doesn’t state their home towns, or when the events took place. Unfortunately such incomplete data proves neither the effectiveness nor ineffectiveness of the most recent monitoring regime.

Some believe that adequate monitoring is impossible. The House version of the 2012 Agricultural Appropriations Act included an amendment prohibiting the use of Food for Peace or Title II funding for food aid to North Korea; the amendment was premised on this belief. However the final language signed into law in November called for “adequate monitoring,” not a prohibition on funding.

The U.S. response, nine months in the making, reflects the doubts outlined above and the politically challenging task of addressing them. It took months for the two governments to engage in substantive discussions on monitoring after the May trip. In December, the State Department called the promised nutritional assistance “easier to monitor” because items such as highly fortified foods and nutritional supplements are supposedly less desirable and therefore less likely to be diverted than rice. The reported offer of 240,000 MT– less than the 330,000 MT the DPRK requested – reflects the unconfirmed report that the U.S. identified vulnerable populations but not widespread disaster.

In early January, the DPRK responded. Rather than accepting the assistance that was under discussion, it called on the United States to provide rice and for the full amount, concluding “We will watch if the U.S. truly wants to build confidence.” While this statement has been interpreted positively by some as sign of the new Kim Jong Un regime’s willingness to talk, it also demonstrates a pervasive form of politicization – linkage. A “diplomatic source” in Seoul said the December decision on nutritional assistance was linked to a North Korean pledge to suspend its uranium enrichment program. Linkage can be difficult to avoid, and the long decision-making process in 2011 may have exacerbated the challenge. Although Special Representative Glyn Davies was quick to state that “there isn’t any linkage” between the discussion of nutritional assistance and dialogue on security issues, he acknowledged that the ability of the DPRK and US to work together cooperatively on food assistance would be interpreted as a signal regarding security issues. Meanwhile, the hungry child in North Korea is still hungry.

UPDATE 75 (2011-12-5): The ROK will donate US$5.65 million to N. Korea through the UN. According to Yonhap:

South Korea said Monday it will donate US$5.65 million (about 6.5 billion won) for humanitarian projects in North Korea through the U.N. body responsible for the rights of children.

The donation to the United Nations Children’s Fund, or UNICEF, will benefit about 1.46 million infants, children and pregnant women in North Korea, according to the Unification Ministry, which is in charge of relations with the North.

Seoul’s contribution will be used to provide vaccines and other medical supplies as well as to treat malnourished children next year, said the ministry.

There have been concerns that a third of all North Korean children under five are chronically malnourished and that many more children are at risk of slipping into acute stages of malnutrition unless targeted assistance is sustained.

“The decision is in line with the government’s basic stance of maintaining its pure humanitarian aid projects for vulnerable people regardless of political situation,” Unification Ministry spokesman Choi Boh-seon told reporters.

South Korea has been seeking flexibility in its policies toward the North to try to improve their strained relations over the North’s two deadly attacks on the South last year.

Despite the South’s softer stance, North Korea recently threatened to turn Seoul’s presidential office into “a sea of fire” in response to South Korea’s military maneuvers near the tense western sea border.

South Korea donated $20 million for humanitarian projects in North Korea through the UNICEF between 1996 and 2009.

Last month, the South also resumed some $6.94 million worth of medical aid to the impoverished communist country through the World Health Organization.

Separately, South Korea also decided to give 2.7 billion won ($2.3 million) to a foundation to help build emergency medical facilities in an industrial complex in the North Korean border city of Kaesong.

UPDATE 74 (2011-12-2): The Choson Ilbo reports that the DPRK’s food prices are rising after the 2011 fall harvest, however, the price increase is not due to a shortage of output, but rather political directives. According to the article:

The price of rice in North Korea is skyrocketing, contrary to received wisdom that it drops after the harvest season. According to a source on North Korea on Wednesday, the rice price has risen from 2,400 won a kg in early October to 5,000 won in late November.

North Korean workers earn only 3,000-4,000 won per month.

This unusual hike in rice price seems to be related to preparation of next year’s political propaganda projects.

A South Korean government official said, “It seems the North Korean government is not releasing rice harvested this year in order to save it up” for celebrations of regime founder Kim Il-sung’s centenary next year, when the North has vowed to become “a powerful and prosperous nation.”

UPDATE 73 (2011-11-24): According to the Daily NK, DPRK television is calling on people to conserve food:

With barely a month left until 2012, the year in which people were promised a radical lifestyle transformation to coincide with the North Korea’s rebirth as a ‘strong and prosperous nation’, programs calling upon people to conserve food are now being broadcast by Chosun Central TV and the fixed-line cable broadcaster ‘3rd Broadcast’.

Chosun Central TV is broadcasting the programs as part of ‘Socio-Culture and Lifestyle Time’, which begins directly after the news on Thursdays at 8:40pm. The majority of the content is apparently now about saving food.

A Yangkang Province source told The Daily NK on Wednesday, “Recently the head lecturer from Jang Cheol Gu Pyongyang Commercial University, Dr. Seo Young Il, has been appearing on the program both on television and the cable broadcasting system, talking about saving food.”

In one such program, Professor Seo apparently noted, “In these days of the military-first era there is a new culture blossoming, one which calls for a varied diet,” before encouraging citizens to eat potatoes and rice, wild vegetables and rice and kimchi and rice rather than white rice on its own, and then adding that bread and wheat flour noodles are better than rice for lunch and dinner.

It is understood that older programs with titles such as ‘A Balanced Diet is Excellent Preparation for Saving Food’ and ‘Cereals with Rice: Good for Your Health’ are also being rebroadcast, while watchers are being informed that thinking meat is required for a good diet is ‘incorrect’.

Whenever North Korea is on high alert or there is a directive to be handed down from Kim Jong Il, both of Chosun Central TV and the 3rd Broadcast are used to communicate with the public. For this reason, some North Korea watchers believe the recent food-saving campaign may reflect a particularly weak food situation in the country going into the winter.

According to the source, one recent program showed a cookery competition involving members of the Union of Democratic Women from Pyongyang’s Moranbong District. During which, one woman was filmed extolling the virtues of potato soup, saying “If we follow the words of The General and try eating potatoes as a staple food, there will be no problem.”

Read all previous posts on the DPRK’s food situation this year blow:

(more…)

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UN WFP / UNICEF launch DPRK program

Sunday, May 1st, 2011

UPDATE 1 (2011-5-3): The Korea Herald offers some more information on the mission:

The World Food Program will increase its personnel residing in North Korea to tighten monitoring of the distribution of donated food, a U.S.-funded radio station reported Tuesday.

The plan comes as the U.N. agency prepares to launch an emergency operation to help feed 3.5 million starving North Koreans by providing 310,000 tons of food within the next year.

The WFP plans to keep 59 agents in the North, an increase from the previous 10. Up to 60 percent of these agents will be tasked with checking whether the food goes to ordinary people rather than the military in the impoverished state, according to the Voice of America.

Pyongyang’s reclusive Kim Jong-il regime has often refused to let outsiders monitor its food distribution process, triggering suspicions that most of the outside aid is being used to feed its army and political elite.

Apparently getting more desperate for outside assistance, the North has agreed to let the WFP agents monitor its food situations in some 400 regions every month, the U.N. body said.

South Korea and the U.S., which remain lukewarm toward resuming full-scale food aid to Pyongyang, suspect that the Kim regime may be stockpiling rice to prepare for potential war or to release on the 100th anniversary of its late founder Kim Il-sung next year.

While the WFP has been calling on the international community to donate 434,000 tons of food to feed starving North Koreans, the two traditional allies also question the accuracy of the assessment made based on Pyongyang’s own statistics on its harvest and rationing.

Among the newly dispatched agents, 12 can speak fluent Korean, the U.S. radio station said, quoting WFP officials.

A total of seven offices, including one in the capital Pyongyang, will open during the emergency operation period, with food being distributed in eight provinces and 109 districts in the North, it added.

In a recent statement, the WFP had stressed that the aid operation in the authoritarian single-party state “will include the highest standards of monitoring and control to ensure that food gets to where it is needed.”

ORIGINAL POST (2011-5-1): According to the UN press release:

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today announced plans to introduce emergency operations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to feed an estimated 3.5 million people in desperate need after crop losses and a particularly bitter winter.

Women and children will be the focus of the one-year WFP operation, which follows an assessment by several aid agencies of food security inside the DPRK, according to a press release issued by the agency. The operation is expected to cost just over $200 million.

UNICEF has launched a $20 million appeal to fund assistance programmes in the five DPRK provinces with the highest rates of malnutrition and in other counties with similar problems.

Although WFP said overall rates of acute malnutrition have not yet reached crisis levels, it warned that the situation could deteriorate rapidly if there is any further reduction in the food intake of those in need.

Many families have already resorted to cutting out the size or number of meals each day, and Government-supplied rations provide only about half of a person’s daily food needs.

“We face a critical window to get supplies into the country and reach the millions who are already hungry,” said Amir Abdulla, WFP’s Deputy Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer.

“Our primary concern is for those who are most vulnerable to shocks in the food supply – children, mothers, the elderly and large families.”

WFP spokesperson Emilia Casella told reporters in Geneva that the assessment found that the severe winter this year had damaged a large proportion of the seed potato stocks needed to plant the next crop.

The vegetable harvest late last year was also down 44 per cent on the expected volume, she said.

Under the operation WFP will provide cereals and the ingredients for the local production of such foods as corn-soy milk, rice-milk blend and high-nutrient biscuits through a public distribution system.

International staff working for the agency will make more than 400 visits each month to provincial markets and distribution points during the operation, and will only have to give 24 hours’ notice to local authorities.

The operation will continue through the harvest expected in October, with specialized nutritious products expected to be distributed then. WFP aims to procure food from neighbouring countries so that it can be distributed as fast as possible.

“WFP has worked in the DPRK for 15 years and we will be drawing on all that experience and expertise to ensure this operation provides vital, timely food and nutrition to those who cannot support themselves through these difficult months,” Mr. Abdulla noted.

UNICEF’s assistance programme will tackle behavioural and structural issues, such as hygiene, infant feeding practices, water and sanitation, as well as direct nutritional needs, agency spokesperson Marixie Mercado said.

Its operation will target more than 400,000 young children and an estimated 165,000 pregnant or lactating women, regarded as among the most vulnerable groups in the current crisis.

Ms. Mercado said the programme will also aim to help children living permanently in institutions as they do not have extended families from which to draw support.

A survey carried out in 2009 found that 32 per cent of DPRK children were stunted, with even higher rates in some rural areas.

Additionally, Greta Van Susteren (Fox News) has announced that she is returning to the DPRK soon.  She always travels with Samaritan’s Purse, so they will probably be launching a program in the DPRK as well. (SMALL UPDATE: Samaritan’s Purse announced they are launching a program)  Wouln’t it be nice if they got get to see Jun, the American detained in the DPRK–reportedly for clandestine evangelism.

The South Korean and US governments have hesitated in providing food aid this spring but they seem to be allowing limited private aid.

There is some debate as to how severe the food shortage is and what should/could be done about it.  Articles from all sides of the debate are cataloged here.

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U.N. plans to spend $290M on aid to DPRK

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

According to Fox News:

As the xenophobic North Korean regime of Kim Jong Il appears to be inching toward a murky transition of power, the United Nations is laying plans to spend more than $290 million on a welter of programs in the communist state—including a scheme to produce an algae sold in the U.S. as tropical fish food–provided someone else comes up with much of the money.

The money is by no means a sure thing, especially if the unpredictable North Korean dictator rejects any of the stringent oversight conditions attached to money from some of the important donors the U.N. hopes will chip in.

The U.N. plans, however, demonstrate the determination of the world organization and its most influential backers—notably, the U.S. government, which is the biggest single financial supporter of most U.N. aid and development organizations– to keep dangling carrots of assistance before the North Korean regime, even at its most provocative.

The U.N. plans persist despite such incidents as the March 26 sinking of a South Korean warship, the Cheonan, most likely by a North Korean submarine, and the regime’s continued nuclear saber-rattling, especially toward South Korea. Just last month, for example, North Korea threatened a “powerful nuclear deterrence” in response to a joint U.S.-South Korean antisubmarine exercise prompted by the Cheonan incident.

All those uncertainties fade, however, alongside a bigger one: rumors that the ailing and reclusive Kim, who returned on Sunday from his second trip to China in three months, hopes to install his youngest son, Kim Jong-Un, as his successor– a process that could already be well under way.

Whatever the outcome of the succession process, at least a dozen U.N. agencies and offices clearly hope to be deeply involved over the next five years in North Korea’s national welfare, in areas ranging from health care and education to sanitation and civil service training, “strengthening knowledge networks” in agriculture, alternate energy development, and transportation, not to mention improving North Korean export trade.

A significant number of the efforts will also go to bolstering the capabilities of the North Korean government, which is not surprising, since they are prepared in close collaboration with various departments of the ruling apparatus. These efforts include a strong focus on health care delivery and education (already problematic in a totalitarian state burdened with a smothering cult of the personality).

But they also include more ambiguous activities in a brutal and thorough-going dictatorship such as North Korea. Among them: coordinating “national knowledge networks and practices,” “management and specialist training,” and—in a country that regularly threatens its neighbors with nuclear and conventional war—a “disaster preparedness and response strategy” spurred by North Korea’s famines and floods. All of these activities are depicted by the U.N. documents as being strictly humanitarian in nature.

The array of plans is laid out in schematic form in a 22-page “United Nations Strategic Framework Results Matrix” for North Korea, which is being presented to members of the supervisory Executive Board of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the U.N.’s principal development coordinating agency, at a meeting in New York this week.

Click here for the matrix.

The framework is buttressed by UNDP’s own country program for North Korea, which is a $38.3 million portion of the larger total. Both documents cover the period from 2011 to 2015.

Click here for the UNDP Country Program.

The UNDP contribution is noteworthy, among other things, for the fact that most of the money–$34 million—can be counted on to exist. That amount is described in the annex to the country program as coming from “regular” UNDP resources, meaning its core budget. Only $4 million of UNDP’s spending in North Korea comes from other contributions.

A UNDP spokesman underlined—as does the country program—the extent to which UNDP claims to be adhering to newly strengthened safeguards in relation to its North Korean program.

UNDP activities in North Korea exploded into scandal in 2007, leading to suspension of its program until 2009. Among other things, an independent investigative panel subsequently determined that UNDP had wrongfully provided millions in hard currency to the North Korean regime, ignored U.N. Security Council sanctions in passing on dual-use equipment that could conceivably be used in the country’s nuclear program, and allowed North Korean government employees to fill key positions.

In the current program, UNDP emphasizes that it has revamped its hiring and currency policies, but adds that “a proper monitoring and evaluation plan is necessary to ensure accountability and transparency in project implementation.” The careful wording indicates that at least some of that planning remains to be done.

While UNDP has actual cash to spend, however, nearly $119 million of some $128 million that UNICEF plans to spend in North Korea over the next four years—about 93 per cent—is expected to come from outside donors, according to UNICEF’s own country plan for North Korea. That is, as UNICEF delicately puts it, “subject to the availability of specific purpose contributions” from those willing to put up the money.

Click here for the UNICEF Country Program.

Much of that volunteer UNICEF money would go toward building up North Korea’s grievously neglected clinical health care facilities, bolstering maternal and early childhood care, early childhood education and large-scale vaccination and medication campaigns to fight AIDs, malaria and tuberculosis.

Most of the anti-disease money is supposed to come from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM), a Geneva-based institution financed in part of Microsoft Found Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda. Nowadays, the U.S. government contributes 28 percent of the GFATM’s funds.

And so far, GFATM has only handed over $12.45 million to UNICEF, according to the U.N. agency’s spokesman, Chris de Bono, for its anti-malarial and TV campaign. (According to GFATM’s website, UNICEF has received $18.35 million, out of about $31.5 million approved so far.) According to de Bono, another $56 million is due to come from GFATM starting in 2013, provided a “number of conditions” laid down by the Global Fund are met.

Those conditions, according to Global Fund communications director Jon Liden, largely bear on whether the money is meaning the health goals set by the donors. Among them, for example, is a commitment to cut in half the North Korean death rate from malaria by 2013, using the death rate in 2007 as a baseline (0.31 per 1,000 people, vs. 0.62.).

Click here for Global Fund report on North Korea.

Failure to meet the targets could result in reduced funding for the next three years, or a cutoff.

The additional “other” revenues required by UNICEF for 2011-2015 will be raised “as we get into our program,” according to spokesman De Bono, “as is our usual practice.”

The same apparently applies to the bulk of $101 million or so to be spent in North Korea by the World Health Organization (WHO). WHO activities include supporting UNICEF on the malaria and TB campaigns, but also building up North Korean health care, supplying equipment and drugs, and helping institute telemedicine.

But WHO’s own “country cooperation strategy” for North Korea extends only to 2013, meaning all of its fundraising plans for the 2011-2015 have not yet been written.

In the current strategy document, completed in 2009, WHO notes that it will need to use about $3 million of its regular budget and mobilize $20 million annually from voluntary contributions to meet North Koreas needs. This, the document says, “will be a challenging task.”

Just how challenging, perhaps, can be seen in the case of the struggling World Food Program (WFP), whose efforts are outlined in the U.N. Strategic Framework as trying to provide “fortified locally produced nutritious foods” to young children.

In fact, WFP has been running a dwindling operation to provide emergency food to many more of North Korea’s desperately hungry population. But donors stampeded away from the WFP fundraising effort, especially after the Kim regime detonated a nuclear device last year, and questions were raised about whether the government was profiting from the food effort.

Questioned Raised About Who Profits From Aid to North Korea

Currently, WFP has dialed back the goal of its emergency food aid operation from $500 million in 2008-2009 to $91 million.

In the 2011-2015 strategic framework, UNDP and the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization will be working on amplifying North Korea’s meager food supply, enhancing, among other things, areas where “double-cropping” is possible, and adding to fruit orchards and livestock herds. UNDP’s project documents say it will spend $13 million on “seed production in alternative cereals” –defined as wheat, barley, soybeans, potatoes—as well as “wild fruit processing and protein-rich production.”

Some of UNDP’s protein projects, however, seem decidedly outside the mainstream, or even bizarre. In its program document, for example, UNDP says it will “support pilot production of protein-rich plans, such as spirulina and pistia statiotes, which will supply nutrients.”

Spirulina is an algae that has gained a reputation in alternative food circles as a diet supplement. In the U.S., health food websites offer a powdered form for anywhere from $24 to $33 per pound—hardly a cheap source of protein for starving people. It is also sold in the U.S. as tropical fish food. But whether North Korea needs a “pilot project” to produce spirulina is debatable.

As far back as October, 2003, a North Korean news agency declared that the Kim government’s botanical institute had, “after years of researches [sic] completed the method of artificially cultivating spirulina at low cost.” The agency added, “It can be cultivated easily in greenhouses too.” Indeed, spirulina is currently listed as a marketable product on a North Korean export website. And on Aug. 6, a Chinese news agency announced that North Korean researchers had created a new spirulina vaccination “which prevents and treats domestic animals’ diseases and increases their weight.” Whether there was any independent verification of that claim was not mentioned in the news article.

As for pistia statiotes, also known as water lettuce, according to the website of the Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants at the University of Florida, the floating plant is a fast-growing weed, which can block waterways, deplete oxygen supplies in water, and threaten fish populations. It is described as an obnoxious invader in West Africa and Australia. While pistia can survive in temperate climates, it abhors cold and thrives mainly in tropical and semi-tropical environments—not exactly what North Korea is known for.

One of the few places where it is cultivated for its nutritional value is apparently southern China, where it is sometimes used as a supplemental carp food.

In a country full of starving or semi-starving people, of course, almost anything may be viewed as edible. But in the U.N.’s renewed desire to pour money into North Korea, the value of at least some of the projects it is pushing for approval may be hard to swallow.

Read the full story here:
U.N. Lays Plans to Spend $290M on Aid to North Korea
Fox News
George Russell
9/1/2010

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UNICEF to Spend $130 Mil. on Aid in N.Korea

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

According to the Choson Ilbo:

The United Nations Children’s Fund has announced plans to spend close to US$130 million to support children and pregnant and nursing mothers in North Korea from 2011 to 2015.

According to Yonhap News, UNICEF has submitted a proposal to its board of directors outlining plans to provide some $128 million worth of humanitarian assistance to North Korean mothers and children.

Some 66 percent is expected to be spent on improving health and nutrition, while the rest will be used to finance medication for malaria and tuberculosis as well as lowering the mortality rate of newborns and mothers.

Read the full story here:
UNICEF to Spend $130 Mil. on Aid in N.Korea
Choson Ilbo
6/3/2010

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North Korea restricts food aid (again)

Friday, July 10th, 2009

According to Fox News:

A spokesman for the World Food program has confirmed to FOX News that on July 3, the emergency relief organization was ordered to limit food deliveries to 57 of the 131 North Korean counties it previously served. At the same time, the agency was told that it must give seven days’ notice of visits to oversee food deliveries at all of its relief sites — a sharp change from the one-day notice previously required under a deal to retain U.S. support for North Korean relief efforts. As a result, the spokesman said, WFP is “reviewing the current terms and conditions for our work” in North Korea, “to ensure that our work and our accountability is not compromised.”

Additional constraints were also slapped on the child relief organization UNICEF in June, according to a spokesman, Chris de Bono. He told FOX News that the regime banned UNICEF from operating in its northerly Ryanggan province, which borders China, and is one of the impoverished country’s poorest areas. UNICEF still operates in 56 other counties across North Korea.

The restrictions make even more dire the food situation in a country where starvation and malnutrition are widespread, even as the Kim regime continues to set off atomic blasts and fire missiles in the direction of Japan and Hawaii.

Furthermore, they once again raise questions about the U.N.’s ability to monitor whatever relief activities that remain in the country. UNICEF’s spokesman told FOX News that only WFP had won the right to 24-hour notification for inspection visits, and that all other U.N. institutions in North Korea have operated with the one-week request limit as a matter of course.

UNICEF has ten international staff and 20 local staffers in North Korea. None of the international staff speak Korean. The agency is budgeted to spend $13 million a year on North Korean operations, principally on food for infants, children and pregnant women, along with emergency vaccination programs, essential medicines and clean water supplies.

But nowhere near that amount of money from international donors is currently available. According to its Web site, UNICEF has received only 10 percent of the total, or about $1.3 million, undoubtedly a result of the North Korean regime’s aggressive pursuit of nuclear weapons. Unless more money is received soon, the UNICEF spokesman said, “it will be difficult to maintain the current level of operations and this will have serious negative consequences for children and other vulnerable people.”

The same funding shortfall applies to the World Food Program, which told FOX News a month ago that donor nations had provided only $75.4 million toward a 2009 goal of $503 million for North Korea, with more than half of that amount — $38.8 million — food aid that was not delivered in 2008.

The only other U.N. agency that has significant operations in North Korea, the United Nations Population Fund, reports that it has received no curtailment in its activities, but it only operates in 11 North Korean counties. It was slated to spend roughly $8.3 million in North Korea between 2007 and 2009, chiefly for birth control and other forms of “reproductive health” and for helping the regime collect population statistics.

Nonetheless, a big question mark still hangs over the North Korean operations of the United Nations Development Program, the U.N.’s major anti-poverty agency, which suspended operations in North Korea in 2007 in the wake of revelations from an independent inquiry that it had wrongfully provided millions in hard currency to the North Korean regime, ignored U.N. Security Council sanctions in passing on dual-use equipment that could conceivably be used in the country’s nuclear program, and allowed North Korean government employees to fill key positions.

Read the full story below:
North Korea Cuts Off More U.N. Relief as Nation Starves
Fox News
George Russell
7/7/2009

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UNICEF maintains operations in DPRK

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

Although the UN World Food Program was asked to leave the DPRK in March, along with US relief workers, the UN children’s fund (UNICEF) is still distributing relief supplies.  Additionally, the UNDP is about to resume activities.  According to Yonhap:

The U.N. children’s agency said Wednesday its humanitarian aid operations in North Korea remain steady amid diplomatic tensions, and that Pyongyang will soon sign an agreement to allow a nationwide nutritional survey.

“The situation with regard to access and monitoring is the same as it has been in the past,” Gopalan Balagopal, UNICEF representative in Pyongyang, said in an email interview.

“UNICEF undertakes regular field visits to monitor progress of work and holds periodic review meetings with counterparts,” he said.

As part of efforts to improve the health of North Korean children and mothers, the agency will soon sign an agreement with the North Korean government to conduct a nutritional survey across the country, set to start in October, Balagopal said.

“We are finalizing a memorandum of understanding with the government shortly for going ahead with a multiple indicator cluster survey, which will have a nutrition component,” he said.

Another aid agency, the U.N. Development Program, is also preparing to restart its program in North Korea after a two-year hiatus, he said. Four UNDP members came to Pyongyang on May 19, and two of them are staying there, keeping “busy with work for restarting their program,” Balagopal said.

UNDP withdrew from Pyongyang in early 2007 after suspicions arose over North Korea’s misappropriation of development funds.

June is a typically lean period in the North in terms of food security, and UNICEF sees increasing numbers of malnourished children in nurseries and hospitals, according to the official.

North Korea’s harvest this year is expected to fall 1.17 million tons short of food needed to feed its 24 million people, according to the Seoul government. Even if the North’s own imports and Chinese aid are counted in, the net shortage will likely surpass 500,000 tons, it said.

Balagopal said his agency has secured about half of its US$13 million target budget for operations in North Korea this year.

He noted there are “some indications” that access to the provinces in the northeast may be restricted to the U.N. agencies. He did not elaborate and said the U.N. will stop its assistance if the access is not guaranteed.

Read the full article here:
UNICEF aid flowing steady in N. Korea: Pyongyang chief
Yonhap
6/3/2009

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UN pulls out of North Korea Olympic torch ceremony

Saturday, April 5th, 2008

More politicization of the Beijing Olympics…

The United Nations has withdrawn its staff from the Olympic torch run in North Korea amid concerns that the relay will be used as a propaganda stunt.

The decision followed a heated internal debate among foreign donors, who face a constant battle with Kim Jong-il’s government in their efforts to get food and aid to impoverished people.

It is believed to be the first acknowledgment by the world body that the Olympic torch relay is a political event that can be exploited by unscrupulous governments, diplomats said.

and…

“Unicef originally decided to participate in the Pyongyang leg of the Olympic torch run in response to a request from, and as a demonstration of support for, the International Olympic Movement,” said Christopher de Bono, a spokesman for the organisation.

“However, we are no longer convinced that Unicef’s participation in the run will support the aim of raising awareness of the situation of children in the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of, or North, Korea] and elsewhere,” he said.

“Unicef has decided, in concert with other UN family entities, to withdraw from the Pyongyang relay.”

Read the full article here:
UN pulls out of North Korea Olympic torch ceremony amid fears of propaganda coup
Times of London
Michael Sheridan
4/6/2008

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Maternal mortality rate increases sharply in N. Korea

Monday, October 15th, 2007

Yonhap
10/15/2007

*View the UN report here

The number of North Korean women who have died while giving birth rose drastically in 2005 from five years earlier due to worsening health care conditions in the impoverished communist state, a report said Monday.

Maternal mortality rose to 370 per 100,000 births in 2005 from 67 in 2000, according to the report issued jointly by the United Nations Population Fund, UNICEF, the World Health Organization and the World Bank.

Although the rate is lower than the global average of 400 deaths per 100,000, it is 26 times higher than that of South Korea with the rate of 14 deaths per 100,000.

Sub-Saharan African countries have the highest maternal mortality rate of 900 per 100,000, followed by Southeast Asia’s 450 and East Mediterranean countries’ 420.

The comparable figures for the United States, the Western Pacific Ocean and Europe are 99, 82 and 27 respectively.

Blurb from report:

The MMR estimate for 2005 (370) was higher than the 2000 MMR (67). The predicted PMDF in 2005 was higher than in 2000, because the GDP estimate (in purchasing power parity) used in the 2005 model was approximately 75% lower than the estimate of US$ 14 996 used in the 2000 model.

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Expert says N.K. becoming more open, better at dealing with national disasters

Monday, September 24th, 2007

Yonhap
9/24/2007

North Korea is becoming more transparent and effective in dealing with disasters, spurred by both internal and external factors, an Asia-Pacific regional specialist said in his latest paper.

Dr. Alexandre Mansourov, a securities studies professor at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies (APCSS) in Hawaii, noted five trends in the North Korean government’s responses over the past decade to nationwide shocks, including floods, typhoons, drought and avian influenza outbreaks.

Increasing transparency is one of the trends, with Pyongyang more quickly admitting to disasters that have struck the nation, he said in a paper (download here) released last week through the Korea Economic Institute in Washington.

It took North Korea several years to admit the impact of natural disasters in the mid-1990s that led to massive starvation and chronic food shortages. But in August 2000, when it was hit by Typhoon Prapiroon, North Korea released the news three weeks after it occurred, and in the two following years, when other typhoons struck, North Korea reported it within three to six days, Mansourov said.

Pyongyang immediately acknowledged flooding in August 2007, he said.

“Observers agree that the timeliness, details, and amount of coverage of flood damage and rehabilitation work in August 2007 is unprecedented.”

North Korea is also showing institutional knowledge and a capacity for disaster management, with new organizations growing out of a decade of learning and experience, such as various provincial centers, the professor said.

The North Korean Red Cross Society has been exceptional, he said, working with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and has made itself the leading agency in disaster preparedness and response.

Inter-agency coordination has also increased, with deputy prime minister-level working groups working closely together in each disaster since the flood of 2001, as there are preventive programs through which basic relief supplies are stored in town and villages.

For example, the 10-year strategy against avian influenza, worked out by the emergency commission in 2005, would have been unthinkable a decade ago, Mansourov wrote.

Another notable trend is the increasing cooperation between the North Korean government and international humanitarian community, gradually allowing joint needs assessments and monitoring, he noted.

Mansourov argued that external factors helped bring about the changes.

“International factors did make a difference in what happened in (North Korea), especially through the introduction of innovative ideas and dissemination of best humanitarian practices,” in addition to foreign aid, he said.

The scholar also argued that while the country’s top leader, Kim Jong-il, does control any institutional changes, there is also adaptation driven by needs.

“There has been some degree of autonomous institutional learning and adaptation; it is incremental in nature and caused by both positive and negative feedback from the environment regarding institutional performance in crisis situations,” he said.

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How To Beat an Audit

Monday, June 4th, 2007

Wall Street Journal
6/4/2007

North Korea will not extend “cooperation” to any U.N. review.

The case of U.N. hard currency for Kim Jong Il took its latest turn Friday with the release of the much-awaited audit on United Nations operations in North Korea. The investigation confirms and elaborates on irregularities in United Nations Development Program’s activities in North Korea, first reported on these pages in January. It fails, however, to examine the central question of this scandal: Whether U.S. cash in North Korea was diverted from its intended recipients and instead used to prop up Kim’s totalitarian regime?

Let us stipulate that any investigation having to do with North Korea is bound to have its share of, shall we say, frustrations. Just ask the U.S. State Department, which, nearly two months after the first nuclear-disarmament deadline, still can’t get Pyongyang to live up to the initial round of its commitments no matter how many times it sweetens the deal.

The first thing to know about the U.N. probe is that it was an internal affair–conducted by the organization’s own Board of Auditors, a monitoring group that in U.N. doublespeak is said to conduct “external” inquiries. The second salient point is that it was conducted entirely in New York City. The longest journey the auditors undertook was to cross First Avenue from the U.N. Secretariat to the offices of the UNDP. To their credit, they tried to go to North Korea but were rebuffed.

In refusing to let the auditors into North Korea, Kim Jong Il displayed his disrespect for Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon. The Board of Auditors had asked Mr. Ban’s office to intercede on its behalf with help on travel arrangements. “In an email dated 11 April 2007,” the audit report reads, “the Board was informed that on 20 March 2007, the Deputy Permanent Representative of DPRK [North Korea] advised [Mr. Ban’s chief of staff] that his government was not going to extend any cooperation to UNDP’s audit.”

Even given the limited scope of their investigations, however, the auditors were able to confirm the massive irregularities in the UNDP’s operations in North Korea. The auditors also found violations at three other agencies–Unicef, the U.N. Population Fund and the U.N. Office for Project Services. The infractions covered three areas:

Staffing: In violation of U.N. rules, local staffers were hand-picked by the North Korean government and allowed to work in “general service” jobs that, for example, allowed them access to the UNDP checkbook and other sensitive documents. Salaries were paid in euros directly to the government, and the auditors could not confirm whether the staffers actually received their pay.

Foreign-currency transactions: Also in violation of regulations, U.N. agencies in North Korea made large-scale disbursements in foreign currency, including payments for salaries, allowances and rent. The auditors could not verify controls over the disbursements. UNDP, Unicef and the U.N. Population Fund spent a total of $72.5 million on programs between 2002 and 2006, though the auditors caution that “the information supplied was not verified and no source documents were examined.”

Program oversight: Visits to U.N. projects, while permitted, were controlled by the North Korean government. Authorization took a week, and government officials accompanied the U.N. inspectors. Most revealing of all, it’s unclear whether the inspectors were international officials or the North Korean government officials on loan to the U.N. organizations whose first loyalty, it’s safe to say, would have been to Pyongyang.

UNDP says it provided evidence to the auditors of 38 field visits during 2002-2006. According to the auditors’ report, UNDP had a total of 172 projects over that five-year period. Do the arithmetic and it seems that only one in five UNDP projects was visited annually. Some “oversight”–especially if the inspectors were government factotums.

The auditors say that this is a “preliminary review.” That’s an understatement. Most glaringly, they failed to investigate the broader role UNDP is said to have had as a kind of money manager for other U.N. programs and, possibly, for countries sending aid to the North. UNDP is trumpeting the auditors’ finding that it spent only an average of $2.6 million a year during 2002-2006. But if it was making disbursements on behalf of other entities, the actual sums under its control–which presumably were subject to the same shoddy financial controls criticized by the auditors–could be far higher.

The UNDP suspended operations in North Korea in March when Pyongyang refused to abide by conditions laid down by the UNDP executive board after the irregularities came to light (but years after the UNDP itself knew but ignored them). To the extent that it sheds light on the corruption, the just-released audit is a useful exercise. But there’s a long way to go before we get to the bottom of the Cash for Kim scandal.

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An affiliate of 38 North