The World Food Program administers one of its largest humanitarian assistance programs in the world in North Korea. About 25% of the entire North Korean population benefited from the program's relief aid last year, according to the WFP. Operating from five branch offices it has established in the North, including one in Chongjin, North Hamgyong Province, a fruit of its "no access, no food" principle, WFP officials distribute food to North Koreans directly. Twelve counties were added to the list of its accessible areas last year, a feat rated as a major achievement in WFP activities. Of the North's total of 211 cities (or special city districts) and counties, 168 are now accessible to the WFP, according to figures tabulated at the end of last year.
Among the 43 areas Pyongyang denies WFP of access for security reasons almost all are the focus of world attention as they involve nuclear, missile and human rights issues. The Yungbyun area in North Pyongan Province, home to a nuclear power plant and a nuclear research station, which have been inspected by international agencies from time to time, and Taegwan County encompassing Kumchang-ri, suspected of holding underground nuclear facilities through the satellite photographs made public in 1999, are off-limits. The adjacent Chonma and Changsong Counties, which are also inaccessible, are known to have many military facilities. The previous off limits Sakju County, North Pyongan Province, housing chemical weapons plants, became the latest addition to the accessible areas and its residents began receiving relief aid on November 20 last year.
Also off-limit are Musudan-ri, Hwadae County, North Hamgyong Province, from which a Daepodong missile was fired in 1998, and Kim Hyong-jik County, Yanggang Province, in which a large-scale missile base was learned to have been completed in the 1990s. So are nearly all parts of Jagang Province where the North's principal munitions plants are gathered. Kim Jung-suk County (formerly Sinpa county) of Jagang Province is excluded from WFP access not for military reasons, but for the prestige of the system in view of its unique significance in the country's "revolutionary history." Ri In-bok, a North Korean defector in the South who had worked in that county as an agriculturist for six years, commented, "Though it is a poor farming area, the people there are proud of living in a county of historical significance."
Also inaccessible are nearly all concentration camp sites, targeted by international human rights organizations. Among them are a concentration camp in Yodok, South Hamgyong province, the situation of which have been revealed over a decade by former inmates who defected to the South - Kang Chol-hwan, An Hyok, Ri Yong-guk, and Ms. Kim Bok-hui (alias). Part of the Dukjang coal mining area of Bukchang County, South Pyongan Province, is also off-limits as it is adjacent to Kyaechon County, home of Kyaechon Concentration Camp. Yi Sun-ok and Kim Yong, both former inmates who have fled to the South, have disclosed the plight of the latter camp.
Hochon, Jangjin, Daehung and Bujon in South Pyongan Province, Yonsa in North Hamgyong, and Baekam in Yanggang are all mountainous areas, notorious for the banishment of political prisoners. Isolated from cities, as they are, their residents enjoy a relatively high self-sufficiency in food thanks to slash-and-burn farming and lucrative specialty products such as mushrooms. Rumors abound in Myongchon County, North Hamgyong Province, that the county is inaccessible to WFP food relief, because its chief party secretary reported to Kim Jong Il during the latter's guidance tour, "We have no food shortage," according to a native Jong Hyon-chol, who fled to the South in 2000.
Also inaccessible is the capital's Unjong District, dubbed the "Taedok Valley of North Korea," housing the Academy of Sciences and the College of Science, where a number of munitions plants operate. So is the capital's Chung (central) District, the hub of the North's bureaucracy incorporating the Workers' Party headquarters. In addition, the WFP is denied access to areas adjacent to the demilitarized zone (DMZ) on the east and west coasts, and the Kumho area of South Hamgyong Province, where a light water reactor is being constructed by KEDO.
Access to three counties in South Pyongan Province and the entire Jagang Province was interrupted for about two weeks late in November, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), though the reasons for this are still unknown.
(Kim Mi-young, firstname.lastname@example.org)