38 North: The Food Debate — Hungry for Action

[Following up on our food aid and food security theme, we would like to alert our readers to papers published by our partner-site 38North. Two articles in particular have drawn our attention. The first is a further analysis of the recent decision by the European Union to send food aid to the DPRK. It is written by Glyn Ford, a man who knows the EU intimately, having been a Member of the European Parliament for over 25 years, until the June 2009 elections. The second article is by Roberta Cohen, whom CanKor readers have met before. She is a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution specializing in human rights and humanitarian issues, and a member of the Board of Directors of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea. Cohen argues in her article that the time has come for the Obama administration to stop dawdling and come to a positive decision regarding food aid. Please follow our links to the articles on the 38North site. –CanKor.]

Feeding the Famine: The European Union’s Response to North Korea by Glyn Ford 

The European Union (EU) announced on July 4, 2011 that it would provide €10 million ($14.3 M) of emergency food aid to North Korea to be distributed through the World Food Programme (WFP) over the next three months–until the end of September, just prior to the arrival of this year’s harvest. This aid represents a much delayed response to an initial request for humanitarian assistance sent by Foreign Minister Pak Ui Chun on January 24… Over the last decade, the EU has provided roughly €500 M ($715 M) in aid, including humanitarian assistance, and nutritional, sanitation, and development projects, plus an earlier contribution to the Korean Energy Development Organisation (KEDO)… Read more…

Hunger in North Korea: Time for a Decision by Roberta Cohen

…But taking no decision is really a decision, which gives the impression that there may be no urgent or extensive food crisis in North Korea requiring immediate action. It set aside the findings of thirteen reputable relief groups and did not dispatch its own mission until the end of May. The mission visited only two provinces (the United Nations visited nine) and has been studying its findings for more than a month. Washington also has been developing stringent monitoring standards should it resume aid, given North Korea’s known diversions to the army and elite. But these may possibly be so restrictive as to preempt agreement… Read more…

Food aid diversion: Why it does NOT matter by Rüdiger Frank

[Dr. Rüdiger Frank is Professor and Chair of East Asian Economy and Society, as well as Deputy Head of the Department of East Asian Studies at the University of Vienna, Austria. – CanKor.]

Donated food in a Chonnae nursery (photo by Erich Weingartner)

One of the things I have, for years, been having difficulties to understand is the discussion of (staple) food diversion. It is of course an important political issue if we consider that donors like to give their resources for a specified purpose and discontinue donating if it cannot be proven that everything went as promised. Fair enough.

But from an economic perspective of feeding North Koreans, food diversion does not matter much.

Let me explain.

  1. Most importantly, food aid is not the only source of food in North Korea. It is only supposed to cover a gap between demand and supply. If “non-deserving groups” get no food aid, they will take their share from the other sources such as domestic production or regular imports, thus reducing the food amount available for deserving groups. In the end, it is a zero sum game. What matters is the total amount of food available in North Korea. If it is high enough, the poor will eat. If it is not, they will be the first to suffer. It’s as simple as that. Read the rest of this entry »

Meeting refugees from North Korea by Mary Robinson

[After a 48-hour visit to the DPRK and ROK in late April, four members of the Elders urged immediate delivery of humanitarian assistance to DPRK and an early resumption of dialogue on all outstanding issues. Mary Robinson, the first woman President of Ireland (1990-1997) and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997-2002), has spent most of her life as a human rights advocate. Currently based in Dublin, Mary Robinson founded Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative and, more recently, the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice. She traveled to DPRK and ROK together with fellow Elders Gro Brundtland, Jimmy Carter and Martti Ahtisaari. –CanKor.]

Mary Robinson

In Seoul today I have just had a very moving meeting with a group of courageous young people – mainly young women – who are originally from North Korea. As they told me how they came to be living in South Korea, I also got a further glimpse into the true hardship of life in the DPRK.

Of course I have just been in North Korea – but it was impossible to have truly frank conversations with ordinary people while we were there – and we knew that what we saw would only touch the surface of the suffering that we had been briefed about.

The young people I met at the Yeomyung School in Seoul had almost all been separated for long periods from their parents, most of whom left North Korea out of desperation. A lack of food was mentioned by almost all as the reason for leaving. Read the rest of this entry »

South Korea’s Humanitarian Dilemma by Victor Hsu

[The following article was written by CanKor Brain Trust member Professor Victor W. Hsu, Korean Development Institute School of Public Policy and Management & Former National Director for North Korea of World Vision International. A shortened version was published as an Opinion piece in the Korea Times. – Miranda]

Home visit in Popdong - photo E. Weingartner

On March 22, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Unification, Lee Jong-joo announced that “there are no plans for direct government-to-government humanitarian aid” to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). But the government is “considering when and how to resume humanitarian aid provided by South Korean NGOs.” This is certainly a step in the right direction given that in recent months the Republic of Korea (ROK) government officials have had to encounter enquiries not only by their own civil society but also by other governments and various United Nations officials. Officials from the World Food Programme (WFP) arrive this week to explore the possibility for the ROK to participate in a new round of food aid. Read the rest of this entry »

Six million vulnerable to starvation: UN

Logo of the UN World Food Programme in SVG format

World Food Programme

In response to a request for food assistance from the DPRK, the United Nations agencies WFP, FAO, and UNICEF organized a Rapid Food Security Assessment Mission (RFSA). WFP Country Office staff assessed the situation in several counties where WFP operates, including  five counties where WFP does not currently have operations.

UN staff was joined by experts from the US NGOs and donors. Team members represented a wide variety of skills and perspectives on food and nutrition security.

The Public Distribution System (PDS) will run out of food by the start of May, substantially increasing the  risk of malnutrition and other diseases, particularly in food deficit counties.  More than six million vulnerable people are in urgent need of international food assistance.

Currently, the PDS covers about half of the daily nutritional requirements per person. Those with relatives in rural areas fare better.

The UN estimates that a total of USD 82.4 million will be required to respond to key humanitarian priorities, including USD 7 million for agriculture and food security projects.

Canadian Contribution

Worthy of note is the Canadian bilateral food aid contribution in 2010 of 260 MT of soybeans.

For the full UN report, click here. (For contributions by country see pg. 11)

Other information from Global Information Early Warning System (GIEWS) on

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea :

As of Mar 2011, included in the list of “Countries Requiring External Assistance for Food”
Normalized Difference Dekadal Vegetation Index (SPOT-4)
Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission (CFSAM) Reports: 201020082004200320022002200120012000,20002000199919991998199819981997199719971996199619961995

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Food Security Assessment by 5 US NGOs


A team of seven experts from five U.S.-based non-governmental organizations – Christian Friends of Korea, Global Resource Services, Mercy Corps, Samaritan’s Purse and World Vision – recently finished a needs assessment for food security in three provinces of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). The team found evidence of looming food shortages and rising malnutrition.

The team traveled to the provinces of North Pyongan, South Pyongan and Chagang over a week period from February 8-15. The assessment was requested by the North Korean government.

FINDINGS Read the rest of this entry »

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