The UN World Food Program (WFP) yesterday warned that it may soon have to halt distribution of food aid in North Korea, unless it receives further pledges of assistance from donor countries.
"As things stand, we'll be scraping the bottom of the barrel within two months," said WFP's Asian regional director Tony Banbury in Beijing on his return from a visit to the diplomatically isolated communist country.
"Many in the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] who desperately need our food will suffer even more if we don't get additional contributions fast," Banbury warned.
If donor countries such as the US, Japan, South Korea or EU nations do not provide further funds, "we will face very serious cuts," Banbury said.
The WFP official said that the organization is currently preparing to supply enriched vegetable oil, an essential promoter of physical and mental growth, to 900,000 elderly people.
If funding shortfalls continue however, the planned supply of enriched vegetable oil to 600,000 children as well as pregnant and nursing women next week could be suspended.
"We shouldn't have to choose between feeding hungry kids and feeding hungry elderly, yet that is the decision we now face," Banbury said.
The WFP estimates that this year's emergency program requires 500,000 tonnes of food aid -- at an estimated cost of US$200 million -- to help 6.5 million North Koreans deemed most at risk out of a population of 23 million.
A majority of those in need are women, children and the elderly. Some 37 percent of the country's children are regarded as "malnourished" by UN standards.
The plight of the most vulnerable is aggravated by an economic adjustment process initiated in mid-2002 that has led to steep increases in market prices of basic foods, and sharply lower incomes for millions of factory workers rendered redundant or now employed part-time, a WFP statement said.