UN Support


The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) continues to suffer widespread food shortages due to economic problems, limited arable land, lack of agricultural machinery and energy shortages. The country remains highly vulnerable to natural disasters; most recently severe flooding in August 2007 caused widespread damage to crops and infrastructure in six southern provinces. DPRK has also been challenged by the effects of the global commodity crisis, with rampant increases in market prices for stable foods and fuel.

Domestic cereal production consistently falls below the requirements of DPRK’s population of 24 million as agriculture is severely constrained by lack of sufficient fertilizer and fuel, declining soil fertility and structural factors. It is anticipated that a sizable food gap will remain for the agricultural year 2010 even with anticipated commercial imports and currently pledged food aid.

The impact of food shortages has been unevenly divided among the population, with urban households in areas of low industrial activity and mountainous areas (particularly in the Northeast) being most affected. These groups have been hard hit by increased food prices, reductions in public food rations and lowered employment and salaries caused by industrial recession. Vulnerable groups including young children, pregnant and lactating women and elderly people remain particularly vulnerable to food insecurity and malnutrition due to their particular dietary needs.


Since 1995, WFP (World Food Programme) has played a central role in mobilising and delivering food assistance to millions of the most vulnerable groups in DPRK, by addressing their immediate humanitarian needs while simultaneously helping to improve their nutritional status. In response to a government request for relief assistance and confirmed new food needs, WFP (World Food Programme) launched an emergency operation in September 2008. Following a budget revisions in November 2009, the programme now targets close to two million (1.94 million) North Koreans with approx. 5,000 mt food per month (compared to 6.2 million beneficiaries and 42,000 mt/month at the start of the operation). A core component in the programme is to provide vitamin-and-mineral enriched blended foods produced at WFP (World Food Programme)-supported factories, which are provided to young children and pregnant and nursing women, and cereal rations to underemployed workers though food-for-community-development schemes aimed at improving food security and mitigation natural disasters.

Since June 2009, WFP (World Food Programme) has been operating in 60 counties of seven provinces (down from 131 counties). At present WFP (World Food Programme) has 15 international staff in the country. More than half the international staffs are regularly involved in field monitoring activities, ensuring that the food assistance reaches intended beneficiaries and to ensure impact measurement of the operation. The long-standing principle of “no access-no aid” is strictly enforced. WFP (World Food Programme) international staff members monitor the relief food supply chain, by sea or by rail, including transhipment points, and down to provincial and county warehouses where our commodities are stocked. Although WFP (World Food Programme) acknowledges the constrained operational environment due to the unique situation of DPR Korea, WFP (World Food Programme) has been striving to progressively improve operating conditions with a view to bring monitoring and evaluation activities closer to international standards.

Valued at US$492 million, the current emergency operation has been extended in time though to June 2010 to allow WFP (World Food Programme) to better analyse the food security situation and align the operation with other UN programmes in the country.



In January 2010, WFP (World Food Programme) was only able to provide 1.41 million vulnerable North Koreans with partial rations. WFP (World Food Programme) is mainly providing fortified foods to young children in institutions and hospitals and pregnant and lactating women. While blended foods are not sufficient to ensure adequate dietary diversity or meet the beneficiaries’ daily energy requirements, the intake of vitamins and minerals is important in mitigating the effects of under-nutrition. Continued shortfalls in other commodities in food basket such as, cereals, pulses and oil are affecting the most vulnerable groups. It is important to note that elderly people did not receive any assistance since October 2008.

Following the recent budget revision, WFP (World Food Programme) operational activities will fully prioritise the most vulnerable groups in the 60 accessible counties. Current food supplies are sufficient to uphold distribution of fortified and blended foods until June 2010, but additional resources are urgently needed to complement the food basket with cereals, pulses and oil. WFP (World Food Programme) operating conditions are also affected by the low resourcing levels: more donor support could pave the way for improved access, monitoring and ability to conduct more assessments.



The harvest of main crops (maize and rice) was concluded in October/November 2009. Assessing the food situation in the country has been complicated since the DPRK Government did not allow a FAO/WFP (World Food Programme) Crop and Food Security Assessment mission in October 2009. While official DPRK statistics report a slight increase in the harvest, the production still remains below the food needs. From regular monitoring missions, it is confirmed that substantial food needs, high under-nutrition, poor household food consumption and lack of dietary diversity still persists.

During WFP (World Food Programme) monitoring visits, no dramatic changes in food consumption were reported or visible. Most households are living on a limited intake of maize, rice and vegetables. Intake of protein, fat and vitamin-minerals are lacking from their daily diet. As reported by the Government, food rations distributed though the Public Distribution System (PDS), upon which 70% of the population is dependent on, were 395 grams per person per day in January. It is however far below the daily nutritional requirement. Due to the harsh weather conditions during the winter, the number of sick and malnourished children was reportedly increased.

On 30 November 2009, DPRK stared replacing its domestic currency with new bills with the aim to curb inflation and reassert control over the economy. It appears that these measures will strongly impact on the functioning of markets and other economic activities. From 1 Jan 2010, use of hard currency was banned. The consequences of the currency change, lead to a closure of markets and shops in December and January, thereby decreasing the access to food items for the overall population. This has lead to a further decrease of the household food security. WFP (World Food Programme) and other assistance delivering agencies in DPRK are following the developments closely. FAO (GIEWS) has reported that for the marketing year 2009/2010, the DPRK Government would need to import 1.25 million tonnes of cereals. However, the ongoing economic constraints for the DPRK economy may hinder the ability to ensure adequate cereal imports. Significant food assistance may therefore be required from the international community.

In January 2010, the preliminary findings of the 2009 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) were released. Despite progress made in recent years, the DPRK still displays high rates of malnutrition compared to other countries in the region. The MICS indicate a 32 percent stunting rate in under-five children and wasting rates of 5 percent (down from 37 and 7 percent in 2004). Close to 28 percent of pregnant and lactating women are undernourished, as measured by having a mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) of less than 22.5 cm, compared to 32 percent in 2004. While the positive developments cannot entirely be attributed to the assistance provided by the international community, it is beyond doubt that international assistance has contributed to the positive changes.