The United Nations Resident Coordinator for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Ghulam Isaczai, has warned that humanitarian gains made over the past decade could be eroded without urgent funding support.
“Without sustained humanitarian support, the gains made in the past 10 years to improve food security and the overall health and nutrition of the most vulnerable – children, pregnant and nursing mothers, and the elderly – could be quickly reversed,” said Mr. Isaczai.
This year, the UN appealed for US$150 million to deliver urgently needed humanitarian assistance to communities across the country. So far only $52 million has been received, leaving a gap of $98 million.
Earlier this month the World Food Programme – one of the five UN agencies operating in DPRK – announced that it had been forced to reduce rations for the hundreds of thousands of mothers and children it supports in DPRK because of a “severe” funding shortfall.
“WFP has had to scale back its assistance in recent months, distributing food in significantly lower quantities than planned – and in some cases, not at all,” the agency said.
If the funding gap is not immediately addressed, close to 2.5 million women and more than 220,000 young children will stop receiving multi-micronutrient supplements that are designed to bolster nutrition during critical periods of development and growth.
Over the past decade, international humanitarian assistance has helped control disease outbreaks and reduce maternal and infant mortality in DPRK. Between 2000 and 2010, DPRK’s maternal mortality rate dropped from an estimated 120 deaths per 100,000 live births to 81.
Rates of chronic and acute malnutrition have also fallen. However, around 16 million people in DPRK remain chronically food insecure and highly vulnerable to food production gaps, and almost 28 per cent of children under five are chronically malnourished, with 4 per cent acutely malnourished.
“For us to maintain those gains in those areas and to further improve the situation, we need to continue to provide humanitarian assistance,” said Mr. Isaczai.
This year, DPRK’s cereal deficit is estimated at 507,000 metric tons. A lack of agricultural inputs – seeds, fertilizers and tools, for example – is considered the main challenge for the country’s farmers and food producers.
"We (also) need to expand the diversity of farming to include soy beans, protein rich agriculture products, and produce vegetables and fruits in order to improve the nutritional value of their food chain and food supply,” said Mr. Isaczai.
Keeping humanitarian and political concerns separate
Mr. Isaczai appealed to donors to separate humanitarian needs from political issues.
"We cannot deny the fact that, given recent events, the lack of progress on the political front does influence donors’ behaviour in terms of funding," he said.
"(But) by providing funding for humanitarian purposes we are sending a very strong message to the [North] Korean public that the world cares about them.
“This will be very visible, concrete evidence of UN and world support to the vulnerable people of DPRK."
In July, the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) released $6 million to support humanitarian efforts in DPRK. Since 2006, CERF has provided over $80 million in funding for agencies assisting people in the country.