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Famine in North Korea

North Korea Map (Thomas Roche/Flickr)

North Korea Map (Thomas Roche/Flickr)

How do you monitor areas that are in most need? Are you allowed access to all areas or do you have to work with North Korean officials in determining where you can send teams?

WFP has its main office in Pyongyang and five sub-offices located throughout the country. We have some 50 international staff who together make between 350-400 monitoring visits every month of the year. They visit all of the types of institutions through which WFP food is distributed -- orphanages, nurseries, kindergartens, pediatric hospitals and schools, both primary and secondary. They also visit pregnant women and nursing mothers at home, as they do the elderly. They visit Food-for-Work (FFW)sites. And always they speak with those who are receiving the food.

We are not satisfied because we do not yet have access to all of the counties to assess needs and to provide food to those who need it. Our "no access, no food" policy means, we think, that many people in genuine need of food assistance are not reached. We are not satisfied because we are not able to make random spot checks. This diminishes the effectiveness of any set of monitoring arrangements.

WFP has access for monitoring food distributions in 163 of the 206 counties/districts in the DPRK. The weekly monitoring travel plan is put together by WFP and cleared by the government. Sometimes there are cancellations to certain counties or FFW project sites, but WFP rigorously enforces the policy of "no access, no food". This means that food distributions to such counties will be suspended in case monitoring visits are cancelled three times successively.

North Korean and international reports often differ on the number of famine-related deaths per year. Can you give me a rough estimate of what WFP thinks is the number of famine-related deaths per year? Is it increasing dramatically?

There is no reliable information on this. The range of estimates varies greatly.

Has Bush's "axis of evil" speech affected the humanitarian effort? Is North Korea likely to receive even less humanitarian aid as a result?

There appears to be no direct affect of the "axis of evil" speech and the US approach to humanitarian aid to the DPRK. The US has always made it clear that it separates the question of humanitarian needs from political issues. Furthermore, the US is again the largest contributor through WFP to this country in 2002 and recently announced a further major contribution of food.

Interview conducted by Cindy Yoon of Asia Society.