“Prior to the 1990s, the DPRK had achieved relatively high levels of human development in terms of life expectancy, infant mortality, access to health services, water and sanitation. The loss of the socialist markets and the natural disasters in the 1990s saw a reversal of many of the Human Development Index indicators: per capita income fell by 50 percent, life expectancy declined and the infant mortality rate increased.”
– United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
North Korea struggles to feed its people, and this was acknowledged by the Korean government in the 2012 Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) Joint New Year Editorial: “At present, the food problem is a burning issue in building a thriving country.”
The United Nations World Food Programme has been providing food assistance in DPRK since 1995, saving lives and making significant inroads into levels of child malnutrition. Most recently, an extremely harsh winter and a squeeze on commercial imports and bilateral assistance, raised new concerns for the food security situation in the country in 2011. While malnutrition rates among children have decreased the last decade, one in every three children remains chronically malnourished or ‘stunted’, meaning they are too short for their age.
A quarter of all pregnant and breast-feeding women are also malnourished. A Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission (CFSAM) in October last year noted that a small shock in the future could trigger a severe crisis which would be difficult to contain if these chronic deficits are not effectively managed. At the household level, assessments during 2008 and 2009 indicated a marginal improvement in food security. However, current rations provided by the DPRK government can meet well less than half of the daily calorific needs for the 68% of the 16 million population receiving public food rations through the PDS. Most people struggle to make up the deficit through alternative means as they do not have the necessary purchasing power.
WFP cites late spring droughts, summer flooding, occasional typhoons in early autumn, deforestation and consequent silting of rivers, economic downturn, lack of agricultural inputs such as fertilizers, and limited capacity to access international capital markets and import food as threats to food security.
WFP provides fact sheets on current operations and hunger information related to North Korea. WFP is part of the United Nations system and is voluntarily funded. The 2012 Overview of Needs and Assistance in DPRK PDF document was prepared by the United Nations Country Team under the auspices of the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office (RCO) in North Korea and with technical support from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok, Thailand.