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At a glance: Korea, Democratic People's Republic of

UNICEF warns of an impending food crisis in DPR Korea and urges renewed support

In DPR Korea, UNICEF supports early childhood development through the production of informational materials and the training of nursery caregivers and parents.

By Rachel Bonham Carter

NEW YORK, USA, 15 December 2006 – UNICEF is warning of severe food shortages in the Democratic Republic of Korea next spring and urging donors to look beyond politics and renew their support of humanitarian programmes in the country. Children represent the future hope of DPR Korea, yet they are the victims of ongoing political turmoil which has seen a reduction in international assistance.

Severe flooding during the summer in four provinces decimated internal food production. With far less food coming into the country because of the government’s decision not to accept humanitarian aid, the impending shortages foretell a dire situation for people in DPR Korea – particularly women and children, who are the most vulnerable.

“If you take the whole picture that the food production is down by 20 per cent, multilateral sources have brought in less than a tenth of what they did the previous year and bilateral assistance is only a quarter,” explains UNICEF Representative in DPR Korea Gopalan Balagopal, “we would then understand that we might be heading in to a major food crisis in the spring of 2007.

“UNICEF’s concerns about the nutritional status of women and children are extremely urgent.” he adds.

A young girl enjoys a classroom activity in DPR Korea, where UNICEF supports schools and kindergartens to develop child-friendly environments.

Life-saving interventions

The last reliable nutritional assessment in DPR Korea, conducted in 2004, showed that a third of all pregnant women were anaemic and malnourished. “There is no reason to believe this figure has improved,” says Mr. Balagopal. “The levels of malnourishment revealed through stunting and underweight levels for children are still the same.”

Although there have been marginal economic improvements in DPR Korea in recent years, they have not translated into increased investment in the provision of basic social services for women and children. Moreover, much of the country’s infrastructure has deteriorated and essential medicines are in short supply.

“What UNICEF needs to be doing is maintaining its normal programmes, which are truly life-saving interventions,” states Mr. Balagopal. “These include ensuring all children are immunized and receive vitamin supplementation, and the work we are doing with the World Food Programme, supplying fortified food for pregnant women and children.”

A boy in DPR Korea washes his hands. To ensure access to safe water and sanitation, UNICEF supports the construction of gravity-fed water supply systems that do not depend on electricity.

In addition, he says, “we must take forward the very important work we are doing to ensure greater accessibility to clean water and sanitation and the innovative openings we have been able to make in education.”

Children’s needs can’t wait

In the face of these challenges in DPR Korea, less than half of UNICEF’s humanitarian appeal for 2006 has been met, and additional funding is required immediately to ensure basic services for women and children in 2007.

“The fact that donors are not coming forward as we were hoping to support us in the context of the current political situation is worrying for us,” admits Mr. Balagopal.

“But what we need to understand,” he continues, “is that there has to be a distinction between the political situation and the humanitarian situation – and that children who are born today need to be immunized today. And they can’t wait for the political situation to be sorted out.”




15 December 2006:
UNICEF Representative in DPR Korea Gopalan Balagopal discusses the dire situation facing children in the country.
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