Food for North Korea's families

North Korea, July 1, 2008

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps  </span>
    The food shortages that have plagued North Korea have especially affected older citizens and young children. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps

Mercy Corps is taking the lead in a yearlong distribution of 100,000 metric tons of food to quell rampant hunger in North Korea.

We have been asked by the U.S. government to spearhead a partnership of five non-governmental organizations (NGOs) including World Vision, Samaritan's Purse, Christian Friends of Korea and Global Resource Services that will implement a major food assistance program for North Korean families. Distribution of the food aid — provided by the U.S. government and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID) Food for Peace program — is taking place over the course of twelve months beginning in June 2008. Alongside our partner organizations, we will monitor the distribution of food such as corn, wheat, vegetable oils and beans through schools, orphanages and other institutions.

North Korea has been teetering on the verge of widespread hunger for years, and children are most affected: according to a recent survey from the World Food Program and UNICEF, at least 37 percent of children are chronically malnourished and fully one-third of mothers are malnourished and suffer from anemia.

The situation is growing worse because of many factors: floods that devastated harvests last year, trade issues with neighboring China and the global food crisis. These factors have combined to double the prices of staple foods in North Korea's capital, Pyongyang. And, today, another shortage of food looms for the country; experts estimate that this year could be North Korea's worst food deficit since 2001.

Our food distribution programs are expected to reach more than 900,000 people — primarily children, the elderly and the extremely poor — in two provinces. We will have staff residing in North Korea to visit families, monitor distribution and assess impact.

Since 1996, Mercy Corps has promoted cross-cultural exchange and worked with the country's vulnerable families and communities to help meet health and nutritional needs, as well as collaborate on long-term agricultural and economic solutions. Our late co-founder, Ells Culver, reached out to the North Korean people in the aftermath of drought, flooding and food shortages. That cooperation was strengthened last year when we hand-delivered $13 million of medicines for flood survivors, and earlier this year when we received a USAID grant to install emergency generators and medical equipment in six county hospitals.

This food distribution initiative is an unprecedented opportunity to help the people of North Korea improve food security and meet their emergency needs. We will keep you updated on the program's progress over the year to come.

Your gift to our Emergency Response fund will help us deliver assistance to even more families in some of the world's most challenging places.