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World Food Program Reports Difficulties in North Korea

The United Nations World Food Program has to drastically cut the number of hungry North Koreans it feeds because of a lack of international funding and new restrictions imposed by Pyongyang.

The World Food Program originally planned this year to reach more than six million hungry people in North Korea.

WFP North Korea representative Torben Due said Wednesday that number has been cut by two-thirds, to less than two million. He referred to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

"It's among the lowest [number] we've ever had in the DPRK," said Due.

Due says the main problem is that the WFP's emergency operation in North Korea does not have enough money. The program has received "very little funding" since October 2008. Of the $500 million needed, only 15 percent has been received so far.

He also says the North Korean government has placed new restrictions on the WFP's work. These new conditions include not being allowed to have Korean-speakers on the WFP staff, which has been sharply reduced to 16 people, from 59. There also is a requirement that the WFP give notice seven days in advance to visit a site, as opposed to the current 24-hour notice.

Due says most of the hungry people in North Korea now suffer from the effects of nearly two decades of food shortages. He says the problems of serious malnourishment affect children before they are even born, if their mothers are underfed.

"We are seeing the combined impact of a chronic undernourishment of a very large part of the population and the impact of it is more dramatic than just a few weeks or months where you have too little to eat," said Due.

He says the WFP and the UN's Food and Agriculture organization did a joint survey last year that found a 8.7 million people in North Korea need food aid. This is more than a third of the country's total population of 23 million people.

North Korea has needed aid to feed its people for more than decade. Its state-controlled economy has contracted because of mismanagement and shortages of raw materials, while poor farming techniques and periodic floods have reduced harvests.