Go to Contents Go to Navigation

(LEAD) (Yonhap Interivew) WFP feeding fewer N. Korean children as donation shrinks: director

All Headlines 18:20 August 26, 2010

(ATTN: ADDS details, comments on WFP assessment of and aid for flood victims in last 4 paras; CORRECTS figures in paras 2-3)
By Sam Kim

SEOUL, Aug. 26 (Yonhap) -- The World Food Program is struggling to keep its project of feeding malnourished children in North Korea from shrinking, its director for the communist state said in an interview on Thursday.

Torben Due, who represents the WFP office in Pyongyang, said his organization set out to raise US$500 million two years ago to provide basic nutrition for North Korean children.

In reality, what the WFP ended up with was $100 million. Due said his team in Pyongyang has re-designed its operation for the next two years to value at $96 million because of grim expectations for funding.

"The most difficult obstacle is that we don't get the resources we need. We don't get the money we need," said Due, who was in Seoul this week to meet with government officials to discuss food needs in North Korea.

"We had to reduce (our program) because we could see we would not get the money. We had to design a program small and realistic in terms of what we would be able to do," he said.

The WFP is a U.N. organization heavily dependent on donation. In North Korea, it supplies cereal-type food mixed with soybeans, milk powder, sugar and others rich in protein and minerals, specifically aimed to fight nutritional deficiencies in growing children.

"The child who is chronically malnourished will be damaged in a way that lasts a whole life. He will be physically stunted, and mental and intellectual development will also be harmed," Due said, adding North Korean children "particularly" like biscuits.

Due said political tensions appear to be one reason why the WFP operation is not receiving enough donations for North Korea, which has conducted two nuclear tests since 2006, defying warnings.

"This is a pure humanitarian issue. Children suffer more than anybody else if there is no food," he said, adding that the WFP office in Pyongyang had to cut the number of counties it was supporting from 130 to 65 this year.

"You are talking about roughly a third of the population that has problems with insufficient food intake, both in terms of quantity and quality. What we're providing is supplement for a small part of the population. The problem is much bigger than what the WFP program is about," he said.

North Korea has a population of about 24 million. Due said quantity matters as much as quality when it comes to helping North Korean children.

"If you have a country with 5 million children, if you want to contribute and solve the problem, you must think in terms of what is needed," he said.

Due declined to disclose his discussions with the South Korean government officials he met here. South Korea has suspended sending large-scale food aid to North Korea unless Pyongyang moves to denuclearize under a multinational agreement.

North Korea has relied on international handouts since it suffered massive famine in the 1990s, when as many as 2 million people reportedly died.

The country is vulnerable to natural disasters. Earlier this month, heavy rains along its border with China raised the level of rivers and led to the evacuation of 23,000 North Koreans, Due said.

"In the areas affected, it's quite devastating," he said. But Due said North Korea had yet to appeal for international assistance as "the impact is very limited" and "localized."

"The government can probably handle it themselves. We are, along with the Red Cross, providing some items," including 1,300 tons of food, he said, adding he had no knowledge of human losses yet.

Earlier Thursday, South Korea's Red Cross proposed sending aid to North Korea to help it recover from the flooding.

samkim@yna.co.kr
(END)

HOME TOP
Send Feedback
How can we improve?
Thanks for your feedback!