We now have a bit more information on the European decision to provide food assistance to the DPRK; a .pdf of the decision can be found at: http://ec.europa.eu/echo/files/funding/decisions/2011/dprk_01000_en.pdf
I learned in Seoul from a European colleague that the €10 million Euro figure was not entirely related to the perceived level of need. Rather, that amount was the maximum the Humanitarian Aid department of the European Commission (ECHO) was authorized to give without going back to the members—through the Humanitarian Aid Committee—for approval. Could this suggest that there might have been internal pushback from members? The total WFP appeal was for $209.5 million. At roughly $14.2, the European contribution is equal to about half of what the WFP has received to date ($33.6 million to be exact) and is 6.8% of the total appeal.
With respect to conditions on the ground, there were a few tidbits not covered in the earlier press release. According to the report, “All households and institutions visited by the mission stated that the current situation is much worse than the same period of not only last year, but of previous years as well.” Obviously, this does not refer to the great famine years. The relevant comparator would be 2008 when the food situation was also dire. Rations—now at 150 grams a day of grain equivalent—are largely in maize and other foods such as oils and soy sauce are in very low supply. The report notes stresses on coping mechanisms, and particularly pressures on the ability of those living on coops to respond to requests for assistance from their urban relatives.
The South Korean government argues that the North could address the food problem by importing more grain. The EU report notes that the government has only imported 100,000 metric tons, far behind its own target of 320,000 metric tons, and cites “near-depletion” of foreign exchange reserves as a possible cause. Obviously, it is impossible to verify what the foreign exchange reserves of the government are, but it seems wrong to simply assume that the are choosing not to import more.
One section of the report is worth quoting at length. “The assessment of the health and nutrition situation concluded that the current global acute malnutrition rate (GAM) of 5.2% in the DPRK is in some food deficit regions higher than reported by UNICEF in 2009 (the SOWC - State of the World Child - report estimates the global acute malnutrition in DPRK at about 9% in 2011). A hidden caseload of children with moderate/severe acute malnutrition is likely to exist, as relatives are not seeking services in the local health facilities due to poor services provided (lack of trust in the state health system).”
2009 was not a good year either. This passage reveals an ongoing problem of the anecdotal reports from travelers that “things don’t appear to be that bad.” Many of those most vulnerable are in areas travelers don’t visit—the North and East—and even there are in institutions as well as homes. As always, the vulnerable are often invisible. The report also acknowledges a limitation of its therapeutic feeding program: that only provincial hospitals will receive the special nutritional supplement for feeding (Plumpynut); these interventions do not reach a large proportion of the severely malnourished children at district/county level.
Glyn Ford, a British Asia hand and former member of the European Parliament, offers his interpretation for the Korea Herald.