The United Nations World Food Program is preparing to resume food distribution in North Korea, three months after the Pyongyang ordered the organization to stop emergency food aid. But U.N. officials say the new plan, which targets only the most needy, will not go ahead unless North Korea allows them better access and monitoring.
The U.N.'s World Food Program, or WFP, has approved a new plan to distribute more than 150,000 metric tons of food in North Korea.
The approval comes three months after North Korea ordered the WFP to halt its 10-year-old emergency food distribution program. Pyongyang said good harvests and food aid from South Korea and China had eased the severity of the food shortage, and it demanded the WFP switch to what it called "development assistance."
WFP Spokesman Gerald Bourke agrees North Korea's overall food situation has improved, but he says many people there still need help. "There are very significant food needs in the country," said Bourke. "There are a lot of very vulnerable women and children. Our monitoring, our surveys, very clearly show that."
Bourke says the two-year, $102 million project is smaller and more focused than previous operations, and includes helping the North Koreans improve their food production infrastructure. "So it is a mixture that would combine both emergency-type assistance that we think is still needed, and development-type assistance," he added.
But, Bourke says, the new program will not go ahead unless Pyongyang allows greater access and monitoring by WFP staff.
At present, North Korea restricts the number of international WFP staffers to 10 and only permits sporadic monitoring.
Bourke says donor nations have made it clear this is insufficient. "What the donors are saying is that they're very concerned about the operating conditions as they stand," he said, "and that many of them would be unable to provide resources for the project if those operating conditions weren't improved."
The United States has sent more than two million metric tons of food worth about $675 million to North Korea over the past 10 years, most of that through the WFP.
The WFP says food donations from the United States and other donor nations have declined in recent years because of the North's restrictions on monitoring.