The European Commission decided over the weekend to provide a €10 million food aid package to North Korea. The program will consist of two components. The first, and no doubt largest, is a standard food assistance program targeted at 650,000 people in vulnerable categories: “mainly children under five, pregnant and lactating women and elderly people living alone” and mainly in the “Northern and Eastern provinces of the country.” This program will be administered through the WFP.
The second component is a therapeutic feeding component for children already experiencing malnutrition, to run from 4 to 6 months. This part of the program will be run out of county level hospitals by Save the Children, which is already on the ground in the country.
The basis of the decision was a nine-day mission in early June that visited three provinces (North Pyongan, South Hamgyong and Kangwon) and the standard itinerary on such trips: food warehouses, Public Distribution Centres, as well as hospitals and clinics, schools, orphanages, kindergartens and nurseries. According to the EU minders, the report is not public. But the press release cites an even sharper-than-anticipated decline in PDS rations to 150 grams a day, presumably at visited sites; this would suggest conditions more dire than those anticipated by the FAO/WFP report based on a March visit.
Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari—who accompanied the Elders on their trip—also appealed to the Commission for food aid following his visit.
This program marks a turn for the EU, which except for some assistance in the wake of the floods in 2010 got out of food aid to the country in 2008 in favor of longer-run development assistance. As in the US, the statements by Commissioner Kristolina Georgieva emphasize the importance of monitoring and threaten to cut aid on any evidence of diversion. A monitoring agreement was supposedly negotiated by the European team, but it is also not public. It is thus unclear whether the terms for the European program are in addition to the WFP monitoring agreement already negotiated—which we examined in some detail—or simply confirm it; the press release touts an increased number of visits and a random-visit protocol. Monitoring is clearly a core stumbling block to any US assistance, which appears less and less likely to materialize.
In the absence of more detail, we cannot know exactly what the EU mission saw. But it clearly wasn't good. The decision--although hardly enough to put a dent in the WFP appeal--appears to confirm our suspicions that the summer harvest is not going to be enough to break a more prolonged-than-normal lean season. Moreover, the therapeutic feeding program suggests increasing malnutrition.