The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released its “Needs and Priorities 2019” report Monday for its work in North Korea, claiming the food security situation in the country is expected to get worse as natural disasters and poor management continue to go unaddressed.
Describing “chronic food insecurity and malnutrition” in North Korea as “extensive,” the FAO report said the DPRK experiences an approximately one-million-ton shortfall in domestic food production each year.
It said this is “due to not only natural disasters but also shortages of arable land, lack of access to modern agricultural equipment and fertilizers.”
“Due to these impacts, food insecurity is expected to increase, particularly among the most vulnerable,” who are additionally victims of “unrelenting gaps in nutritional status between rural and urban populations,” according to the report.
The FAO assesses food security and malnutrition as strongly linked, meaning “any negative impact on agriculture and food production has widespread and long-lasting impacts” which exacerbate existing “widespread undernutrition” in the North.
“Most people do not consume an adequately diverse diet,” according to the FAO, owing to a general scarcity in protein, fat, and micronutrient-rich food.
The FAO is hoping to “increase availability of and access to diverse, nutritious foods” by contributing technical training and support in addition to seeds, fertilizer, tools, and other items.
It is also aiming to assist with “environmental rehabilitation and disaster risk reduction” through capacity-building and support for food production, “embankments repair, dam and irrigation systems construction or rehabilitation,” and other measures.
For the calendar year 2019, the FAO is hoping to receive USD$10 million to assist approximately 513,000 people.
Their work in North Korea focuses on addressing food insecurity for 10.9 million people (43% of the population), according to the latest report, saying “1/3 of children (6–23 months) do not receive the minimum acceptable diet” and “1 in 5 children suffer from stunting (chronic malnutrition).”
The FAO’s Crop Prospects and Food Situation report for the Q4 2018 said the DPRK had experienced a 1.7% drop in total cereals production since 2017, and that total cereal stocks have been dropping since 2016.
This led to an increase in cereal import requirements for 2018 – up to 641,000 tons compared with 456,000 tons the previous year.
That report said a “below-average output [of cereals] is also forecast” in North Korea, “reflecting the government’s directive to reduce paddy cultivation in response to a gradual decline in rice consumption.”
One of the key causes of the poor food security situation in the DPRK, the 2019 FAO report said, is the frequent occurrence of natural disasters and the country’s failure to properly cope or prepare for them.
North Korea has been “severely affected over the past six years by natural disasters,” the report said, pointing to floods and drought as harming “farmers’ coping capacities.”
The effects of climate change are seen as having a potentially significant effect on further related issues, with the FAO hoping to build “capacities in climate change adaptation, early warning systems, disaster preparedness, response and recovery, as well as building back better (construction planning and standards).”
“In 2019, productive assets need to be restored if hit by natural disasters and enhanced to ensure continued supply of food and other essential services for people in need,” the report said.
The FAO representative office in Pyongyang held a three-day workshop in December, in which Deputy Representative Bir C. Mandal delivered a presentation reviewing natural disasters which hit the country in the past eight years and highlighting “the emerging pattern of climate extremes.”
Issues related to food security and climate change were addressed during the workshop, which was attended by other international organizations, foreign embassy missions, members of the Pyongyang Agricultural College of Kim Il Sung University, and North Korean government officials from various departments.
The DPRK most recently experienced major floods last summer, leading to at least 76 deaths and many dozens more missing, in addition to significant impacts on the agricultural sector.
The previous year saw drought said to be the worst in North Korea in almost two decades.
North Korean state media last week, however, urged citizens to mobilize to secure more water and “dramatically increasing agricultural output” this year.
The FAO sought slightly less funding – USD$9 million – for the DPRK in 2018 compared to this year, and had only received 5.5% of that funding by its July mid-year update.
By the end of the year, the organization had received USD$500,000 from the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) for its work in North Korea, as well as almost USD$1.5 million from the Swedish government, which may also be used in 2019, according to the UN Financial Tracking Service.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
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