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UN:  Millions of North Koreans Still in Desperate Need of Food Aid

The World Food Program reports 6.5 million North Koreans still are in desperate need of food aid. The WFP says one of its chief concerns is the nutritional condition of hundreds of thousands of people who live in so-called "no-go" areas in North Korea.

The World Food Program says millions of children, women and elderly people in North Korea are barely subsisting. It says they lack both the quantity and quality of nourishment they need.

The U.N. food agency notes North Korea is expected to have a good harvest this year. However, it says domestic cereal production will remain well below the minimum requirement of its peoples' food needs.

On top of this, WFP spokesman, Simon Pluess, said the plight of the most vulnerable is aggravated by an economic adjustment process which has been going on since 2002.

"It has led to situations where a lot of people have lost their jobs or they get lower incomes. Some of them can only work part time, and at the same time, last year the food prices of cereals has tripled. So you can imagine that it becomes almost impossible for a lot of people to just cope with that situation. By the end of last year, for example, one kilo of rice cost like 20 percent of a typical monthly wage. So, it is very difficult for many people to cope with that situation," he said.

Two-thirds of North Korea's population of nearly 24 million remain dependent on the government-run Public Distribution System. This program provides most people in urban areas with subsidized rations.

Mr. Pluess says the government recently cut these peoples' rations to 250 grams of staples a day. He says this is enough to meet only half their calorie needs.

He says his agency also is greatly concerned about the nutritional condition of people living in parts of the country which are government "no-go" areas. He says WFP Staff has no access to 49 out of 203 counties and districts in North Korea. He says the 17 percent of the population that lives there does not receive food aid.

"We really hope that the government will review its policy on that. As to the World Food Program, we can, of course, not give food to areas where we cannot access and in areas where we cannot monitor the distribution and the impact of this food assistance. But, yes, it is a great concern that there are parts of the country where we really do not know how the situation is," he said.

Mr. Pluess says WFP has enough food stock on hand to feed 6.5 million North Koreans until June. But, he says the agency must receive pledges soon from international donors. Otherwise, he says the WFP will run into funding problems and be forced to cut food rations for millions of people as it has had to do in the past.