The World Food Program Cuts

June 26, 2014 7:00 AM

In May, we ran a brief update on mounting constraints on WFP programming in North Korea. More evidence is now in on the severe financial limits on the organization’s current efforts in the country.

The WFP launched a two-year Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation in July 2013 that was designed to feed 2.4 million people, mainly children and pregnant and breastfeeding women. The program targeted households in 87 counties with about 205,000 MT of food, some of it supplied through 14 food production factories making fortified biscuits and Super Cereal for Children. The total cost of the program was set at roughly $200 million.

Yonhap reported last week that the organization has decided to cut the program by about 30 percent to $137.5 million. In a press briefing in Seoul in May, however, executive director of the WFP Ertharin Cousin said it had received only 20 percent of the funding required to implement the program. How to reconcile the numbers?

The short answer is that even the reduced figure is aspirational. Moreover, an analysis of the Financial Tracking Service data for 2013 and 2014 shows that the effective shortfalls of support are larger still, as country donors have effectively abandoned North Korea. The program is being kept afloat largely by carryovers and small amounts of discretionary spending under the control of the multilaterals themselves.

In 2013, North Korea received commitments and contributions of $62.8 million. But this was spread across UNICEF, WHO, FAO and other multilateral agencies in addition to the WFP (the data even included some aid channeled through NGOs). The WFP share was 42 percent, or $26.6 million. Of the WFP contributions, over 40 percent was in the form of allocations of unearmarked WFP funds ($2.2 million), carry overs ($2.5 million) as well as the UN’s own Central Emergency Response Fund ($6.6 million). Country commitments to the WFP for 2013 were limited to contributions by Australia ($1.5 million) and China ($1 million).

This picture is again on view in 2014. As of June 21, North Korea had received total multilateral funding commitments and pledges of $17.1 million for the year, which means the country is on track to receive only about half the multilateral assistance it received in 2013. $9.7 million of those commitments were for the WFP, with Canada ($2.7 million) and Switzerland ($3.8 million) the only two country donors; $3.2 million for the program again came from the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund.

There would be a good PhD dissertation in explaining why appeals for some countries are met or even oversubscribed while others go wanting. But trust in the recipient and broader aid fatigue are clearly playing a role in North Korea’s case.


mort abramowitz

why don't you do a more public piece. cheers

Joshua Stanton

How much food could you buy for the cost of a ski resort, a waterpark, or the fitness center Kim Jong Un isn't using? Kim Jong Un must be the most fatigued donor of all. He could fund WFP's whole 2-year program by writing one check.

More From

Stephan Haggard Senior Research Staff

More on This Topic

North Korea: Witness to Transformation
April 29, 2016
North Korea: Witness to Transformation
Stephan Haggard (PIIE) and Marcus Noland (PIIE)
September 23, 2015
North Korea: Witness to Transformation
July 14, 2015