Pyongyang-based senior U.N. officials are visiting the South Korean
capital, to report on North Korea's ongoing food shortage. They say
international food donations are up, and Pyongyang officials are being
cooperative. But, as VOA Seoul Correspondent Kurt Achin reports,
millions of North Koreans still risk serious malnutrition as they await
a questionable harvest.
Pyongyang-based program directors of
major U.N. relief agencies painted a mixed picture of North Korea's
ongoing food shortage but maintained the situation remains very
World Food Program country director in the North Korean
capital, Jean-Pierre de Margerie, says rising world prices for rice and
basic grains, compounded with flooding last year, put many at risk in
North Korea - or, as it is known, the DPRK.
"Most of the regions
in the DPRK have been sliding downwards towards acute food and
livelihood crisis," he said. "And some areas - those most affected by
the crisis - are sliding to level four, which is a level of
About a million North Koreans are
believed to have died from hunger-related causes in the mid 1990s
during a famine brought about by North Korea's self-imposed isolation
and economic mismanagement. Periodic flooding takes a much worse toll
on farmland in the North than in South Korea, because rainwater flows
faster down mountains stripped bare by impoverished North Koreans.
Margerie says unusually heavy floods last year, and the severe
shortages that followed, appear to have made North Korea more
cooperative with the United Nations.
He says the WFP has
expanded its North Korea operations fivefold. North Korea has allowed
59 WFP staff members into the country this year, including, for the
first time, native Korean speakers. He says the organization has a
much easier time monitoring food distribution than in previous years.
are reaching conditions, which allow us to say that we have random
access in the field, allowing us to increase tremendously our level of
confidence in terms of confirming that the food is reaching the
intended beneficiary," said de Margerie.
De Margerie says unlike
previous years, food shortages are affecting what he calls the North's
"cereal belt", farming areas in the country's Southeast.
Food and Agriculture Organization North Korea program coordinator John
O'Dae says North Korean agriculture is not working near capacity
because its equipment and infrastructure are too dilapidated.
lot of equipment - tractors, trailers - is quite old," he said. "It is
in a state of poor repair. There is a lack of spare parts and tires."
crucially, O'Dae says North Korea lacks the fuel to run its equipment,
and chemical fertilizer to use in its fields. The shortages are adding
to worries the North will have a poor harvest this Fall.
Korea has not provided any direct food or fertilizer aid to the North
this year due to a chill in inter-Korean relations. The U.N. aid
directors are scheduled to meet with South Korean officials this