Who are the vulnerable in North Korea?

The following analysis has been generously compiled by Michael Yee, a Global Aid Network (www.globalaid.net) developmental aid worker based in Pyongyang in 2004-5. You can follow Michael on twitter at http://www.twitter.com/michaelvyee

Analysis of Food Aid to vulnerable populations in DPRK

The following is a comparison in the vulnerable population in DPRK using official reports that the UN, or its agencies, released in conjunction with the North Korean Government. Specifically, it uses the 2003 and 2004 Consolidate Appeals Process (or CAP) and the Nov 2010 FAO/WFP food security report. There was a 2005 “CAP” report released, but the North Korean government was not involved in the development of the report, and there were no further reports released. The 2005 report is excluded from this comparison.

Vulnerable Population supported with supplementary rations from WFP

Group needing support 2000 (Pg 14) 2003 (page 22) 2004 (page 12) 2010 (page 27)

(under 5)

5.454 million 2.2 million 2.3 million 1.046 million
Elderly 0.5 million 2.6 million 2.6 million 0.1 million
Pregnant & nursing 0.32 million 0.42 million 0.98 million 0.635 million

Following the crisis in food production of 1995-97 due to consecutive natural disasters, and its economic difficulties, we see that the new standard of food production for the country is around 4.5 million MT of cereal, as compared to the 1980s standard of 6 million MT (Figure 1, 2010 report, page 8). We can conclude that this has helped contribute to a lower birth rate, due to the lack of food security.

It is probable that the drop in food production in 2007 also greatly dropped the birth rate from 2007-08 as well, as children born in that year would have turned two or three this year, but this alone cannot explain a 1.2 million drop of children under the age of 5. The reported infant mortality (26/1000 live births) and Under 5 mortality (33/1000) rate supplies a secondary reason (2010, page 24). The graph also indicates that there was an increase in food production in between 2002-6, which would help support the increase in children and pregnant/nursing mothers at the time of the 2003-4 reports, as compared to year 2000. It stands to reason that the 2004 reported figure is actually the anomaly, and the normal birth rate is much lower. (You can see CIA’s estimated birthrate on a yearly basis from 2003 at http://bit.ly/epSC9Y).

Since the beginning of the food crisis in 1995, North Korea requires imports of cereal around 1 to 1.5 million MT per annum, though this number is being reduced on a steady basis. If the national fertilizer requirements for 2010 are still the same as listed in 2004, 600,000 MT (2004, page 38), the national fertilizer supply continues to be 100 to 150,000 MT short (2010, page 13). If national production/donations could be increased, this may help speed the gap being closed. However, with current issues as of this writing (Nov 24, 2010), it is hard to see donations increase and with the lack of hard foreign currency holdings makes this increase difficult to see in the near future. In addition, over half of the fertilizer is imported, so supplies may actually decrease in the near future.

It is difficult to determine the number of elderly that are being supported through these plans as the supplied numbers in each report employ different gathering schemes. The 2003 and 2004 CAP reports lumped all seniors together. The 2010 report focused specifically on seniors without family support, while the 2000 report merely indicated elderly that needed support without indicating family status.

Amount of food support requested for Vulnerable Population

2000 (pg 12) 2003 (pg 12) 2004 (pg 15) 2010 (page 27)
Food Assistance Requested (MT) 1 000 184 (actual) 512 000 484 000 305 000
Total population supported by request, including the groups mentioned above 6. 4 million 6.4 million 6.5 million 4.9 million
Provides per person in group 156 kg 80 kg 75 kg 62 kg

The requested figures that are listed above are to just supplement the rations of the vulnerable population only. For example, the total request of food aid for 2010 is actually 542 000 MT. The materials for the vulnerable population can be taken from both internal and external supplies.

The latter three food requests are taken when the food production has begun to stabilize following spikes downward. Still, in 2010, with a population of around 24 million, it still means that 20 percent of the Korean population is being supported with supplementary rations. Due to the reduced birthrate and high infant/U-5 mortality rate, the supported population of young children and nursing/pregnant mothers that requires supplementary food support continues to decrease. How this will impact the future workforce needs of the North Korean people remains to be seen.

However, it is heartening to see that the reason why the supplementary rations are dropping between the reports is that the daily cereal allowance provided is increasing.

Food Rations

2003 (pg 22) 2004 (pg 32) 2010 (pg 21)
Daily Cereal Allowance per person (avg) 270 g 300 g 375 g

The figures above are the daily cereal rations that were supposed to be supplied/bought via the Public Distribution System (or PDS). The amount of the daily cereal allowance is announced by the government. Families that are based in urban locations or are non-farming based receive some of their food from this system. This ration amount is announced by the government each year, and depending on the time of year and the state of the food stores, will fluctuate (for example, I remember sitting in the inter-agency meetings in 2004 and hearing about ration cuts in the PDS system to 250g). While the provided amount of cereals through the PDS system steadily increases on a yearly basis, it is only supplying half of the daily caloric requirement of a person needs to maintain normal body weight. With diets consisting continuously with low rations, and little option for increasing calorie intake for PDS families who may not have enough salary to be able to buy additional food products in the open market, it is little wonder that that the birth rate continues to drop.

The referred to reports can be downloaded at reliefweb.int at the following links.

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