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(Yonhap Interview) K-pop, Korean tech prowess could be useful tools against unprecedented food crisis: WFP official

Diplomacy 07:00 November 25, 2022

By Oh Seok-min

SEOUL, Nov. 25 (Yonhap) -- South Korea can and should do more to help resolve the unprecedented level of the global food crisis by maximizing its experiences, cultural influence and advanced technology, a senior official of the U.N. food agency has said.

Brian Lander, the deputy director at the emergency operations division of the World Food Program (WFP), made the remarks in an interview with Yonhap News Agency in Seoul on Wednesday when he raised an alarm over the worsening food insecurity emanating from the prolonged war in Ukraine, the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change.

"What we have now is a crisis of access to food. We're now very much concerned about the availability of food because we don't have the same level of production. There is not enough fertilizer getting out of Russia as there had been in the past," Lander said.

He called the current situation "a perfect storm," with multiple unfavorable factors being layered to hit communities that are already vulnerable and no support mechanisms remaining.

The number of acutely food insecure people in the world will hit a record high of 349 million this year, more than doubling from the pre-pandemic level of 150 million people, according to WFP data.

This photo, provided by the World Food Program on Nov. 23, 2022, shows Brian Lander, deputy director of the agency's emergency operations division, speaking during an interview with Yonhap News Agency in Seoul. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

South Korea is a major contributor to the agency, providing 50,000 tons of rice and financial contributions of about US$100 million this year. It is the only country in the world that has become a donor country from being a recipient of U.N. aid, according to the WFP.

"Korea's success story is extraordinary. Unfortunately, it doesn't happen very often. I think we have to profit, and I think Korea has a lot to share with the world in terms of how it managed, including through its own practices," Lander said.

He called for Seoul's role as "a political broker" to help bring an end to global conflicts, stressing that a political resolution is a must to resolve food issues.

The official also pointed to the global popularity of its culture and private firms boasting technology prowess, as useful tools to help fight the crisis.

"You're a credible voice, so why not use it?" Lander said. "You've got K-pop. People could be getting together and adding their voice to this. A social movement is something that very much could come from places like South Korea, because you've got that motivation."

He then cited as an example Elon Musk's donation to the WFP of SpaceX's Starlink satellite communication system that helped facilitate communication and activities of its staff members.

When asked about North Korea, the official voiced concerns about its worsening food situation amid the war in Ukraine and its impact on the supply of fertilizer, though his agency is not able to monitor the situation as its international workers had to leave the country last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We can only extrapolate that because of weather conditions and satellite imagery, we can get a general sense that the situation certainly hasn't improved. We would be very much concerned that it's perhaps gotten worse. As soon as we are able to go back, we will go back," he said.

Lander is in South Korea to attend a global annual forum on the Official Development Assistance (ODA) organized by Seoul's agriculture ministry.

The WFP aims to assist 160 million people around the world this year, which requires a budget of $22.2 billion. As of mid-November, it had secured $10.5 billion.

This file photo, released by Russia's TASS on Nov. 1, 2022, shows barges being loaded with grain at port facilities of the Aston agricultural holding company in the port of Rostov-on-Don. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

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