Sources on North Korea 4: UN Overview of Needs and Assistance: DPRK

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There are currently six UN agencies with a footprint in the DPRK: the World Food Program (WFP), Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and UNICEF. UNDP houses the Coordinator’s office for the UN Country Team. Over the last two years, the entire operation has faced scrutiny from conservative news operations, including a detailed expose by Fox.

The UN is now fighting back in a useful document that reviews the full range of its programs and their objectives.  [The document is unavailable online as of now, but UNDP personnel told us that it will become available here] The report delivers a very simple and powerful message: things are bad, probably getting worse, and there is very little international support for the country. Last year’s combined appeal for a measly $137 million garnered less than a 10% response, with funding covered largely by the Central Emergency Relief Fund (CERF), a more discretionary source created for rapid-response purposes in 2005. As contributions dwindle, targets do too; this year, the combined appeal totals $81 million and only $1million has been received to date. The WFP has received nothing in response to a $48 million appeal.

The central issue that the report addresses, however, is donor skepticism. Despite the usual UN-speak, we found it surprisingly candid. It is incredibly difficult to operate in the country, but the agencies in question do the best they can given the constraints. Above all, they “continue to ‘bear witness’—allowing a relatively candid and accurate analysis of the humanitarian conditions in a country that is otherwise cut off from the outside world.” The choice of words is chilling.

The report is organized by issue, with simple, straightforward outlines of the underlying humanitarian issues, the programs that have been in place, stakeholder, monitoring and assessment issues, and access and programming maps: food security; agriculture; health and nutrition; water, sanitation and hygiene; and education. There are also thumbnails on each agency and some of the major private donors.

A separate section analyzes the difficulties of operating in the country with surprising bluntness. Among the many telling reminders:

  • each agency has a dedicated North Korean counterpart, but they are organized under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, not the relevant functional ministries;
  • monitoring visits still typically require seven days advanced notice;
  • data issues are pervasive, although the report highlights a number of major assessment initiatives in the last two years (p. 30);

Despite the marginal improvements, many of the issues remain the same as those we, and many others before us, have documented for some time.

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