The humanitarian situation in North Korea remains dire, according to a new UN report released Wednesday, with over 43% of the population reportedly in need of international aid in order to have access to adequate food and health services and domestic food production at its lowest levels since before 2009.
The 2019 Needs and Priorities report for North Korea, released today, reviewed the work of multiple UN aid agencies and other partner organizations in the country in 2018, and laid out the overall strategies to address chronic ongoing issues in the coming year.
In total, at least 10 international organizations are requesting USD$120 million for projects in 2019 addressing food security and agriculture, nutrition, WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene), and health issues which continue to receive inadequate attention from the North Korean government.
The report said the situation “remains grim” and that “food insecurity will increase in 2019” due in part to natural disasters in recent years, and is requesting urgent funding from countries and other donors.
Capacity issues, however, mean that plans for 2019 still only target 35% of the 10.9 million people in need, according to the UN report.
North Korean government statistics showed that total food production amounted to 4.95 million tons in 2018 – the worst in over a decade and half-a-million tons or 9% less than in 2017, and 16% less compared to 2016, the report said.
While some of the blame can be placed on natural disasters such as floods and drought in recent years, as the report lays out, the trend over the last decade reveals consistent problems stretching back to before Kim Jong Un came to power in 2011.
Production has consistently failed to reach the 6-million-ton mark in the last decade, fluctuating over the years between 5 and 5.89 million tons at its highest.
The report pointed to particular shortfalls in potato and soybean crops – experiencing a 34% and 39% drop in production since 2017 – and in rice and wheat crops, which saw a 12-14% drop since 2017.
In the foreword of the report, Tapan Mishra, UN Resident Coordinator in Pyongyang, wrote that the numbers show the “lowest production in more than a decade … contribut[ing] to the protracted cycle of humanitarian need that exists in DPRK and [that] the world continues to overlook.”
In terms of food security, the UN pointed to the Global Hunger Index (GHI) number for 2018 showing North Korea as “serious” and “bordering on alarming,” ranking near the bottom of the world with its worst rating since 2000.
The report also stated that around nine million people lack access to adequate health services, and that existing facilities “often do not have the essential medical equipment or life-saving medicines to provide quality health services.”
Particularly high rates of tuberculosis in North Korea when compared to neighboring nations were also highlighted, said to be a result of poor health services.
Compounding healthcare and sanitation issues, it also said that “many health facilities struggle to maintain consistent water and electricity supplies,” negatively affecting their ability to treat patients.
Overall, it appears the number of people in need of assistance across food and health categories has increased significantly in the last year as well – increasing from 10.3 million people in 2018 to 10.9 million people.
ACCESS AND SANCTIONS
The UN report did not place a major focus on issues relating to access within North Korea, despite frequent complaints from individual agencies in the last year.
Instead, it claimed they have access to all provinces in the country, and that there were even advances made on the issue in 2018.
It said that concerns remain particularly over Jagang Province, but that two agencies have been granted permission to carry out projects there with limited access, highlighting a breakthrough in achieving a “first monitoring visit” last October.
Maps provided in the report show that the capital Pyongyang naturally receives the highest rate of access for populations specifically targeted for relief, while the three provinces bordering South Korea received the lowest.
Efforts have also been made to “ensure aid reaches the most vulnerable people and isn’t diverted,” the report said, while agencies monitor completed projects from past years to ensure sustainability and that “goods and equipment are still being used for their intended purpose.”
But the report repeated the complaint that international sanctions are negatively affecting the ability of aid organizations to carry out their plans in North Korea.
It said that despite humanitarian exemptions to the UN sanctions, there remain “unintended consequences… such as lack of funding, the absence of a banking channel for humanitarian transfers and challenges to the delivery of humanitarian supplies.”
So far this year, 13 exemptions have been made by the UN Security Council committee in charge of North Korean sanctions, allowing many of the organizations listed in the 2019 Needs and Priorities report to bring in the necessary goods and equipment to continue their work.
FUNDING FOR 2019
In addition to being considered an unintended consequence of sanctions, the UN report stated that an expected funding shortfall will have knock-on effects this year – leading to a drop from 6 million people targeted for aid in 2018 to just 3.7 million people this year.
A press release provided by the UN on Wednesday said it was only able to raise 24% their funding target for North Korea projects last year, making it “one of the lowest funded humanitarian plans in the world.”
“A number of agencies have already been forced to scale back their programmes. Without adequate funding this year, the only option left for some agencies will be to close projects that serve as a life-line for millions of people,” the statement from Tapan Mishra said.
The World Food Programme (WFP) has requested the greatest amount at USD$53 million, with the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF both requesting around USD$20 million.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: NK News
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