'Dire funding situation' for UN agencies in North Korea

Valerie Amos, United Nations under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs visits a UNICEF- and WFP-supported school in October 2011 in North Korea. Photo by: David Ohana / U.N.

United Nations agencies may soon be forced to suspend their programs in North Korea if they do not urgently receive $29.4 million in funding for critical food and health assistance needed for the rest of the year.

“The dire funding situation leaves the U.N. agencies and other humanitarian actors concerned about the continuation of their programs” in the reclusive country, the five U.N. agencies present in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said on Monday.

Efforts to address humanitarian needs in North Korea remain seriously underfunded as the agencies stressed that so far they have only received 27 percent of the $147 million requested to finance their operations.

“Despite a slight improvement of the overall humanitarian situation over the last 12 months, the structural causes of people’s vulnerability persist,” the World Food Program, UNICEF, the World Health Organization, FAO and the U.N. Population Fund noted in a statement.

Of the total amount, the lion’s share or $20 million would go to WFP, which has recently been forced to suspend production of fortified cereal and biscuits as well as reduce rations and cut distribution of critical food aid to young children in the western part of the country. The agency currently feeds about 1.6 million children and nursing mothers in North Korea.

“External assistance continues to play a vital role in safeguarding and promoting the well-being of millions whose food security, nutritional status and general health would otherwise be seriously compromised,” the agencies added.

Although the international sanctions against the North Korean regime exclude humanitarian aid, they have triggered a “negative impact on the levels of humanitarian funding” that is severely impacting efforts to feed the people, the statement said.

U.N. Resident Coordinator in Pyongyang Desiree Jongsma warned a month ago that 16 million North Koreans suffer chronic food insecurity, and 2.8 million need regular nutrition assistance.

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About the author

  • Carlos Santamaria

    Carlos is a former associate editor for breaking news in Devex's Manila-based news team. He joined Devex after a decade working for international wire services Reuters, AP, Xinhua, EFE ,and Philippine social news network Rappler in Madrid, Beijing, Manila, New York, and Bangkok. During that time, he also covered natural disasters on the ground in Myanmar and Japan.