April 30 2002, NEW YORK - The already severe humanitarian crisis in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea will worsen dramatically within weeks unless the international community pledges more aid immediately, the United Nations warned today.
Declaring that more than six million of the country's most vulnerable - primarily women, children and the elderly - face acute shortages of food, basic medicines and clean drinking water, the heads of the United Nations Children's Fund, the World Food Programme and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs urged donors to make fresh commitments promptly to prevent a potentially large-scale loss of life.
"Because donations have been slow in coming this year, we have already had to take some tough decisions. So, in May, we will not be able to distribute food to more than 350,000 elderly people and 675,000 secondary school children," said WFP Executive Director James Morris.
"While unfortunate, this will allow us to continue providing food for orphans, young children and pregnant and nursing women into the third quarter. These groups are most at risk, and are entirely dependent on a government-run Public Distribution System already scaling back its very meagre rations."
"We need pledges now, because once a pledge is made it takes two to four months to get that food into the stomach of a hungry North Korean."
Supplies of sugar, vitamins and minerals - key ingredients in fortified food blends and biscuits for young children made at local WFP- and UNICEF-supported factories - are all but exhausted too.
"Micronutrients are vital for the immune system. Without them, children are much more vulnerable to illness and disease," said Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF.
DPRK government statistics indicate that 45 per cent of North Korean children under five are chronically malnourished, while a further four million school-aged children are also underfed, impairing their capacity to learn.
The nutritional status of some 480,000 pregnant and nursing women is poor, and the rate of maternal mortality is increasing.
"Indeed, a large segment of the civilian population of some 22 million people is suffering the consequences of inadequate food supplies, compounded by limited access to health, water, sanitation and education services," said Kenzo Oshima, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.
"Last November, the United Nations appealed to donors for $258 million to enable UN agencies and NGOs to meet the most pressing humanitarian needs in the DPRK during 2002. To date, just $23.5 million, less than 10% of the total requirements of the Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeal, have been pledged. We urge the international community to respond urgently and generously."
A broadening of the donor base would not only yield more resources, but also facilitate a broader international dialogue with the DPRK government. "Continued funding is very important for the engagement process," declared Bellamy. "Engagement does result in positive change."
For more information, contact:
Alfred Ironside, Communication Officer, UNICEF, New York. Tel. (212) 326 7261, firstname.lastname@example.org