PYONGYANG, 27 March 2003 - Three United Nations agencies today welcomed a substantial pledge of support by the Republic of Korea for emergency feeding and healthcare programmes to assist millions of vulnerable children, women and elderly people in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
In its broadest commitment to date to the UN's humanitarian relief efforts in the North, the Seoul government has indicated it will channel almost US $20 million this year through the World Food Programme, the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Children's Fund.
The aid - 100,000 tonnes of maize valued at $18 million through WFP, $700,000 for a WHO malaria prevention campaign and $500,000 in supplies to UNICEF for child health and nutrition programmes - is being provided in response to an urgent appeal last month by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Following a mid-January mission to the DPRK by his personal envoy, Maurice Strong, Annan warned of a major humanitarian crisis unless donors responded expeditiously to the pressing food and medical needs of the most vulnerable there.
"This very significant pledge by the Republic of Korea will help ensure that 3.5 million hungry people, many of whom had previously been cut from our distribution plans, receive cereal rations for up to three months", said WFP Executive Director James Morris.
"The ROK is clearly signalling that it has seen what UN collaboration can do to improve the health and nutrition of needy children and wants us to continue the good work. We appreciate that, and we hope others do too," said UNICEF Executive Director, Carol Bellamy.
WHO Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland described as "crucial" Seoul's contribution to the agency's campaign to prevent malaria, which has resurfaced in the North after apparently being eradicated. She added: "Like other health interventions, it is as important an area of inter-Korean cooperation as roads and railways."
The Republic of Korea pledges, the latest in a series by donors to the DPRK, bring to $72 million the level of funding secured by UN agencies, non-governmental organisations and the Red Cross movement for key humanitarian operations during 2003. However, that is still 68 per cent short of the $225 million required to fully implement their programmes this year.
Announcing the results last month of a survey showing considerable improvement in child malnutrition rates since the previous assessment in 1998, UNICEF and WFP cautioned the gains could be lost without continued, substantial aid.
The survey indicated that the proportion of young children underweight had dropped to 21 per cent from 61 per cent; wasting, or acute malnutrition, fell to 9 per cent from 16 per cent; and stunting, or chronic malnutrition, was down to 42 per cent from 62 per cent. But the underweight rate was still "high" and the stunting rate "very high", according to WHO criteria.
"The recent commitments are very welcome, and very necessary", said Masood Hyder, the Resident Humanitarian Coordinator in Pyongyang. "But clearly the crisis is far from over, and we sincerely hope other donors will step forward soon."
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For more information, please contact:
Richard Bridle, UNICEF Representative, Pyongyang, Tel. +850-2-3817 234
Masood Hyder, Resident Humanitarian Coordinator, Pyongyang, Tel. +850-2-3817 284
Rick Corsino, WFP Country Director, Pyongyang, Tel. +850-2-3817 238
Eigil Sorensen, WHO Representative, Pyongyang, Tel. +850-2-3817 914