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(LEAD) Unification minister to hold videoconference with WFP chief

All News 14:33 June 03, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS more info in 6th para, last 4 paras, photo)
By Koh Byung-joon

SEOUL, June 3 (Yonhap) -- Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul was set to hold a videoconference with the head of the World Food Programme (WFP) on Wednesday, his office said, raising the possibility that they could discuss aid to North Korea.

The talks with WFP Executive Director David Beasley were set up at the request of the U.N. food agency, the ministry said.

"The talks set for this afternoon with the WFP executive director had been scheduled earlier to be held in the first half," Yoh Sang-key, the ministry's spokesperson, said in a regular press briefing.

"It will be held through a videoconference in consideration of concerns over COVID-19, and issues of mutual concern will be discussed in depth during the talks," he added.

However, he did not elaborate further on what specific issue will be discussed.

Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul (L) shakes hands with World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley ahead of their meeting in Seoul on May 13, 2019. (Yonhap)

The videoconference comes as North Korea is facing chronic food shortages caused by crippling global sanctions and unfavorable weather. Things appear to be worse due to the global coronavirus pandemic, which prompted Pyongyang to close its border with China, hampering regular shipments of food imports.

Beasley visited South Korea in May last year and met Kim and other government officials and expressed concerns over the North's food shortages.

His visit to Seoul followed a gloomy report by the agency and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on food situations in North Korea.

About a month later, the Seoul government announced a plan to send 50,000 tons of rice to North Korea through the WFP, though its shipment has not been made amid chilled inter-Korean relations.

The government also donated $8 million to the WFP and the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) for their projects in North Korea to support the nutrition of children and pregnant women and address their health problems.

Chronic food paucity appears to be taking a toll on its people's health.

The FAO and two other organizations -- Johns Hopkins Alliance for a Healthier World and Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition -- said in a recent report that around 48 percent of the North's population is facing "undernourishment."

The figure is much higher than the global average of 11 percent and the East Asian average of 8.4 percent.

The report is in line with the FAO's assessment earlier this year that North Korea is one of 44 countries that need outside food support.

North Korea has claimed it recorded a bumper harvest last year, but the unification ministry said that the North might be facing a shortage of around 860,000 tons of grain this year.


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