SEOUL, Feb. 23 (Yonhap) -- The World Food Programme (WFP) could suspend its operations in North Korea this year as restrictions on imports remain in place due the coronavirus pandemic, a report on its website showed Tuesday.
According to the report, the U.N. aid agency has continued to be faced with difficulties in deploying its staff in the North, with its physical monitoring activities being curtailed for a prolonged period of time.
"Pandemic-related restrictions do not ease and food imports, international staff deployments and physical monitoring access remain curtailed for a prolonged period," the WFP said.
"WFP will opportunistically use windows in which food imports are allowed to replenish and optimize in-country stocks and mitigate against import delays. However, there is a significant residual risk that, should food imports not be possible, operations will cease in 2021," it added.
Humanitarian aid efforts in the North have been severely hampered due to Pyongyang's tightened border controls put in place since early last year, though it has claimed to be coronavirus-free.
North Korea has rejected outside help on worries that any inbound shipments could bring about an outbreak of the highly contagious disease.
Border closures coupled with damage to farming areas inflicted by back-to-back typhoons and flooding last summer have raised concerns over worsening food shortages in the impoverished state.
North Korea is believed to be faced with a food shortage of about 1.2 million to 1.3 million tons this year. The unification minister earlier said that the ministry is exploring various ways to provide food and fertilizers to North Korea in humanitarian assistance.
Moon vows close cooperation with Biden for Korea peace process
Biden's speech signals better ties with Seoul, less drama with Pyongyang
N. Korea leaves room for inter-Korean ties but challenges lay ahead with 'conditions'
Kim's remarks warrant concerns, but also hope for dialogue: U.S. experts
Blinken likely to seek stronger alliance, multilateral approach toward N. Korea: experts