Aid Agencies Complete Needs Assessment in North Korea

February 23, 2011

Washington, DC— Five aid agencies have found evidence of looming food shortages and alarming malnutrition in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). A team of seven experts from Christian Friends of Korea, Global Resource Services, Mercy Corps, Samaritan's Purse and World Vision recently finished a week-long needs assessment for food security in three North Korean provinces.

The team traveled to the provinces of North Pyongan, South Pyongan and Chagang over a week period from February 8-15. They were given extraordinary access to conduct the assessment by the Korea-America Private Exchange Society (KAPES), an organization that liaises with US-based non-governmental agencies. The team visited 45 sites including hospitals, orphanages, citizens’ homes, cooperative farms and warehouses.

The visit was requested by the North Korean government, whose representatives informed the agencies there have been severe food shortages after poor summer weather and a bitter winter that significantly damaged crops. North Korean authorities estimate that 50-80 percent of the wheat and barley planted for spring harvest, as well as potato seedlings, were killed by extreme cold in the past two months. In addition, rising global food prices have reportedly made it difficult for the DPRK to import sufficient food supplies.

The team observed evidence of malnutrition, food shortages, and people foraging for wild grasses and herbs. These trends are particularly prevalent among families that depend on the North Korea public food distribution system, and most severely impact children, the elderly, the chronically ill, and pregnant and nursing mothers. The team recommends that the DPRK be considered for emergency food assistance targeting these groups.

Each of the five aid agencies involved in the assessment has more than a decade of experience working in the DPRK. In 2008, the five collaborated on a food security assessment, as well as a subsequent program that delivered 71,000 metric tons of US Government-funded food aid to 900,000 hungry North Koreans in Chagang and North Pyongan provinces.