Archive for the ‘UNICEF’ Category

Australia to provide $4m aid to N Korea

Friday, April 27th, 2007

Austrailian Associated Press

Australia will provide almost $4 million in humanitarian aid to a hungry and malnourished North Korea.

Millions of the 23 million people in the communist country are living in poverty.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Australia’s $4 million commitment will focus on improving the health, hygiene and nutrition of North Koreans.

“Thirty-seven per cent of North Koreans suffer from chronic malnutrition, and two-thirds of North Korean children do not receive enough food because of a one million tonne food shortfall,” Mr Downer said in a statement.

“Many North Koreans also lack access to clean water and sanitation.”

Mr Downer said Australia’s assistance will be provided through a number of United Nations agencies and the International Red Cross.

About $1.5 million will go towards UNICEF’s water and sanitation program.

A further $1.5 million will provide food for 1.9 million people through the World Food Program.

The rest of the money will be spent on emergency health and essential medicines, disaster management, water supply and sanitation.


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

Friday, February 2nd, 2007
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.


North Korea’s stunted policy stunts children

Tuesday, March 15th, 2005

Asia Times
Aidan Foster-Carter
March 15, 2005

It’s a cliche to complain how little we really know about North Korea. Hard facts, and especially figures, are indeed hard – as in hard to come by.

In some fields this is perfectly true. The military, obviously. Does North Korean leader Kim Jong-il have the bomb or bombs? How many? Where is he hiding them? All countries keep that kind of information secret.

But no other nation in the world fails to publish any regular statistics about its economy. This 40-year silence should temper hype about market reforms. Without numbers, neither local enterprises nor external donors or (they wish) investors can do more than gamble in the dark. They really do need to know. Providing accurate numbers is a basic prerequisite of being a modern state.

Yet North Korea possesses a Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), and it is not idle. No doubt the Dear Leader demands economic data – for his eyes only. But in some fields, the CBS does publish its work. One example was North Korea’s 1993 census, its first ever.

More recently the CBS has worked with international aid agencies to collect information that the latter need in a key area: hunger and its human consequences. The latest fruits of such cooperation have just been published in the “DPRK 2004 Nutrition Assessment Survey”, a joint product of the Central Bureau of Statistics and North Korea’s Institute of Child Nutrition (ICN), with financial and technical help from United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations World Food Program (WFP). The two chief consultants were from Australia and Vietnam, so this was a regional Asian effort. It follows earlier surveys carried out at two-year intervals, in 1998, 2000 and 2002.

It was the WFP that released this report, at a press conference in Beijing on March 7. It is in fact dated November 2004; the survey itself was carried out in October. The delay wasn’t explained. Perhaps the lag was attributable to translation time and to make sure it was fit for publication generally.

I’m often critical of North Korea, so all the more reason to give credit when it’s due. This is an impressive, highly professional report comprising 104 pages, five chapters, 46 tables, 24 figures. The sample was 4,800 children, ages up to six, and 2,109 mothers of children under two, drawn evenly from seven of North Korea’s nine provinces plus the capital, Pyongyang.

Having taught social science research methods in a former life, I get a kick out of reading about random and cluster sampling (sad, I know). Then I pinch myself. This is North Korea. An official document! All these numbers! And on a potentially very sensitive subject, too.

For what this survey measures, with grim precision, is what years of hunger have done to the bodies of small children – and I do mean small – and their mothers in North Korea.

To be technical, there are three main criteria:

*Underweight (for age) is self-explanatory;
*Stunting, low height for age, signals chronic malnutrition;
*Wasting, worst of all, is low weight relative to height, indicating acute malnutrition. Each of these categories is sub-divided into mild and severe cases. For the mothers, a fourth measure was used: MUAC (mid-upper arm circumference). Less than 22.5 centimeters means they aren’t eating enough.

So how are Juche’s (juche is the policy of self-reliance) children faring? The WFP’s press release tried to look on the bright side. Since the last survey in 2002, the proportion of young children chronically malnourished (stunted) is down from 42% to 37%. Acute malnutrition (wasting) eased from 9% to 7%. But those underweight rose from 21% to 23% – though for children under the age of two, those most at risk, this fell from 25% to 21%. One in five children had diarrhea, and one in eight showed symptoms of acute respiratory infection. But mothers have made no progress: a third were anemic and malnourished, the same figure as two years ago. Vitamin A deficiency is common.

Much depends on where people are living. Things are less bad in Pyongyang and in the southwestern Hwanghae farming region than in bleak northeasterly Hamgyong and Ryanggang provinces. Ryanggangites get to eat meat, fish or eggs just once every three weeks on average. Chagang in the far mid-north is bleaker still, but North Korea doesn’t allow access to this area – probably because of military bases located there. Thus, no survey was conducted in Chagang, which means no food aid either; the WFP is strict about that – surveys first.

Even at the national level, the few slight improvements offer scant comfort. The more than one-third (37%) of North Korean’s under six who are stunted – and especially the one in eight (12%) who are severely stunted – will grow up stunted and stay that way. Even once Korea is reunified politically, they will stand out physically: dwarfed by their Southern peers.

Seoul, meanwhile, has different – nay, opposite – child health issues. With uncanny timing, the very same day as the WFP released its survey on the North, education officials in the Southern capital reported that one in 10 schoolchildren in Seoul is overweight. Obesity rates are growing fast, too. As the old adage has it, the rich slim while the poor starve.

Back in the North, the WFP doesn’t appear to be leaving any time soon. Richard Ragan, head of the program’s Pyongyang office – and an American, to boot – said he hopes the agency will shut up shop one day, once the government and the private sector can stand on their own feet.

But for now, one anniversary a proud North Korea won’t be celebrating, is that this year marks a whole decade since it first, reluctantly, asked the WFP and other agencies for help coping with flood and famine. While the worst of the famine has eased, food self-sufficiency – in a country so mountainous that this is a ludicrous goal anyway – looks as remote as ever.

So still, in 2005, the WFP has extended the begging bowl for Kim Jong-il – whose own priorities evidently lie elsewhere. Ever prickly Pyongyang has bitten the kind hand trying to feed it, forbidding UN agencies to launch their usual formal consolidated aid appeal this year. Nonetheless the WFP is seeking $202 million with which to buy 504,000 tonnes of food, mainly grains.

And no wonder. In January North Korea cut its Public Distribution System (PDS) rations to starvation level: 250 grams of cereal per person per day, the lowest in five years. Such cutbacks don’t usually happen until March, when last year’s crop typically runs out. This is all the more odd, since 2004’s autumn harvest is thought to have been the best in years.

Luckily, the WFP currently has enough stocks – as it did not, in the recent past – to feed all of its target group: a staggering 6.5 million North Koreans, or nearly one-third of the entire population. The main categories within this group are 2.7 million children from birth to the age of 10 and 2.15 million people in food or work programs. Other beneficiaries include 900,000 elderly, 300,000 pregnant women and nursing mothers, and 350,000 in low-income households. The latter are a new category: victims of the post-2002 reforms that have seen inequalities widen, even as the state retreats ever further from providing any help to the millions of citizens whom its disastrous past and half-baked present policies have starved and stunted.

That’s my take, not the WFP’s. Diplomacy precludes any such critique from a UN body. Yet the raw data, the results – written indelibly on the bodies of innocent children, marked for life – are there for all to see. It’s ironic, but the same regime that branded this suffering on its people is at least now registering and owning up to the outcome: collating and publishing these damning data, putting its name to the survey, and signing off on it. That’s a start.

Where his statisticians boldly go, will the Dear Leader follow? It’s so simple. Ditch nukes; watch aid explode instead. Let the children eat, and grow. If not, what future is there?