The European Commission will give emergency food aid to North Korea

[The European Union (EU) has taken the plunge. Will others follow? In the following Press Release by the European Commission (EC) dated Brussels, 04 July 2011, Kristalina Georgieva, EU commissioner for international co-operation, humanitarian aid and crisis response, outlines the terms of a decision to supply $14.5 million in food aid to the World Food Programme (WFP). Special monitoring conditions have been negotiated, with priority given to feeding children on brink of starvation, mothers, hospital patients and elderly. –CanKor.]

A North Korean child (photo by EU)

The European Commission will provide emergency food aid to more than half a million people at risk of dying from serious malnutrition in North Korea, amid growing fears of a worsening hunger crisis.

The terms for delivering the food assistance are unprecedented, with strict monitoring procedures in place.

The objective of the €10 million aid package is to lift around 650,000 people, mainly in the Northern and Eastern provinces of the country, out of the hunger zone during the most difficult period of the worst year for food production in recent times. The next main cereal harvest is due in October.

Food assistance will reach children under five who have already been hospitalised with severe acute malnutrition. Children in residential care will also be fed, as well as pregnant and breastfeeding women, hospital patients and the elderly.

Agreement with the North Korean government on a tough monitoring mechanism was struck after humanitarian experts from the European Commission last month visited hospitals and clinics, kindergartens and nurseries, markets and cooperative farms and state food distribution centres to gather evidence of the deteriorating situation.

“The purpose of this aid package is to save the lives of at least 650,000 people who could otherwise die from lack of food. Our experts saw severely malnourished children in hospitals and nurseries where no treatment was available,” said Kristalina Georgieva, European Union Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response.

“Clearly, North Korea’s chronic nutrition problem is turning into an acute crisis in some parts of the country. But because of well-founded concerns I have insisted that a strict monitoring operation is pursued from the point of delivery of the food aid at the ports all the way to the neediest recipients.

This has been a key issue in our negotiations with the North Korean authorities. It will be precision-targeted aid delivered directly to the most vulnerable: children under five, pregnant and breast-feeding women, the infirm and the old.

If at any stage we discover that the aid is being diverted from its intended recipients then the Commission will not hesitate to end its humanitarian intervention,” said Commissioner Georgieva. “We simply cannot allow people to die of hunger and for this reason we are determined to monitor the delivery at every stage.”

The EU mission found that state-distributed food rations, upon which two thirds of the North Korean population depend, have been severely cut in recent months from 400g of cereals per person per day in early April to 150g in June: less than 400kCal – a fifth of the daily average nutritional requirement and equivalent to a small bowl of rice.

Increasingly desperate and extreme measures are being taken by the hard-hit North Koreans, including the widespread consumption of grass. A large proportion of the population is lacking sufficient food intake.

As the food assistance will have to be channelled through a highly centralised distribution system managed by the authorities, strict safeguards and controls have been agreed with the World Food Programme (WFP) in order to mitigate the risks of food diversion.

WFP will manage and oversee the delivery of the EU aid package with rigorous checks at every stage. It will pay 400 visits per month to warehouses, child institutions, households, hospitals, markets and food distribution sites. Humanitarian aid experts from the European Commission and WFP monitors have been promised unrestricted access for random checks to verify that aid reaches its intended recipients.


The European Commission sent a humanitarian assessment team to North Korea in June. The experts confirmed that the nutrition situation is worse than in previous years, and that emergency assistance is needed.

To help address North Korea’s structural food insecurity, between 2007 and 2010 the European Commission has invested €35 million in long-term nutrition projects in the country. These are funded through the Thematic Food Security Programme and are carried out by European NGOs. A second phase of the programme will be implemented between 2011 and 2013.

From 1995 to 2008, the Commission provided around €124 million in humanitarian aid in North Korea to supply emergency food, improve health services and provide access to clean water and sanitation.

Alongside its chronic food problems, North Korea is highly vulnerable to natural disasters such as floods and droughts.

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