DPRK Monthly Update - Apr 2003

Originally published

WFP food distributions are currently expected to meet cereal needs of the most vulnerable beneficiary groups into the fourth quarter, provided all confirmed contributions arrive as scheduled. During April, WFP cereal distributions to children in nurseries, kindergartens and to pregnant and nursing women continued without major gaps after the arrival of the ECHO shipment of 46,000 mt in the previous month. However, local food production activities faced shortages in constituent commodities, especially soybeans, for the production of the enriched blended foods for the youngest children and pregnant and nursing women.
In an effort to reach the most vulnerable groups - young children and pregnant and nursing women - WFP cereal rations will be suspended in May to some other groups - the elderly, caregivers, and some child institutions on both east and west coasts. However, cereal distributions to all targeted groups should be restored in June with the arrival of the Republic of Korea maize donation. Further cuts in these distributions are expected in the fourth quarter unless additional contributions are received.

A Canadian contribution of USD 2.5 million for the purchase of 5,500 mt of pulses and a cash contribution of USD 0.2 million from Finland have been confirmed. Pipeline shortfalls of about 120,000 mt remain for the rest of the year. Specifically, these include cereals (95,000 mt); pulses (9,500 mt); Corn Soya Milk (9,000 mt); sugar (3,500 mt) and oil (3,000 mt). These are essential to ensuring the continued implementation of the full range of WFP’s planned activities throughout the remainder of the year.

SARS and humanitarian operations

The DPRK Humanitarian Coordinator and Designated Official declared Security Phase One throughout the country on April 23 after reviewing the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) situation in the region and given the limited facilities available to the United Nations for treating SARS cases in-country. Phase One is a precautionary phase, requiring travelers to obtain security clearance prior to proceeding to the DPRK.

The DPRK government adopted stringent measures to minimize the risk of a SARS epidemic in the country. The Ministry of Public Health issued directives that seek to quarantine, at the point of entry, all persons arriving from both SARS “affected” countries and those countries where any SARS cases have been recorded. All incoming passengers from these countries will be kept under observation and isolation in Anju City, North Pyongan province for 10 days. Passengers arriving from other countries are to be medically assessed at the airport and if found to display no symptoms, allowed to go to their residences and work as normal. All those displaying symptoms of SARS are to be taken to the isolation ward of the People's hospital in Anju City, some 75 km west of Pyongyang. At the end of April one WFP staff member was in quarantine, though a further seven were scheduled to arrive back in the country the following week and expected also to be placed in quarantine.

All flights to and from Beijing are suspended from May 6 for at least one month. Travel in and out of DPRK consequently will be limited to one weekly flight via Vladivostok in Russia. To further limit the access of foreigners to the country, authorities have stated that only single-entry visas would be granted to humanitarian workers after the expiry of their current multiple-entry visas. In addition, application for these visas must be made through DPRK missions abroad. The DPRK humanitarian community has appealed to the government on the visa and quarantine issues, as these significantly impact humanitarian operations in the country. WFP has also taken up the issue with the DPRK representation in Rome.

Operational Review

Weather conditions were generally favorable for seasonal agriculture activities during the month. Potato and maize sowing were completed and farmers are currently working on paddy fields in preparation for rice transplanting, to commence from the middle of May. Local officials report that spring and winter wheat and barley crops are growing well.

As reported, household stocks of alternative foods (wild edible grass, etc) collected before the onset of winter, have since run out in most areas. These foods supplement government rations and are a primary coping measure for urban households during the harsh winter months. With the start of warmer weather, families have begun to gather spring herbs and wild vegetables in the inland areas, and fish and seaweed on the coast. Urban populations living in mountainous regions have no access to herbs and vegetables at this time, as cooler temperatures have slowed spring vegetation. With limited assistance from rural relatives due to scarce arable land, urban families in these areas are the most vulnerable to food insecurity, especially at the start of the lean season.

Emergency officers monitored provincial child health institutions during the month. The most common child illnesses in paediatric hospitals and wards were reported to be colds and flues, bronchitis, digestive diseases (diarrhea, indigestion), and meningitis in some institutions. Drug supplies are limited and doctors use traditional medicines to treat illnesses. Children suffering from malnutrition are provided with WFP-supplied high-energy, fortified rice-milk-blend foods. These health institutions do not have sufficient resources to provide meals or snacks for in-patients and families are expected to bring food from home for their hospitalized children.

Government daily food rations provided through Public Distribution Centers (PDCs) in April were maintained at 300 grams/person/day, composed of varying proportions of maize and rice. Local authorities have indicated that PDC rations will be reduced to 250 grams/person/day from May –signaling the onset of the lean season.

The country office Programme unit organized two workshops and an all-day retreat in April, as most field staff were back in Pyongyang for the national holiday week. The refresher-training workshop discussed field staff roles and responsibilities within the DPRK context, security in the field and sub-office management, while the monitoring and needs assessments workshop focused on food security and nutrition issues. The retreat was an opportunity for international staff to air their concerns to management and propose solutions on a variety of issues.

Monitoring and Access

Monitoring activities were limited during the month. FFW assessment missions by regional teams and the FFW unit in the first half of April continued in all provinces, leading to a subsequent decrease in monitoring of vulnerable group feeding activities. In addition, monitoring visits were negatively impacted by the national holidays in the middle of the month and the measures imposed by the DPRK government in response to the worldwide SARS crisis.

Due to SARS-related quarantine and travel restrictions, there was a 25% reduction in monitoring visits by international emergency officers in the latter part of April. The government also imposed restrictions on access to counties located on the border with China, with the Sinuiju sub-office closed until further notice.

Monthly Monitoring Visits

April 2003
April 2002
LFP Factories
Family visits

*To be consistent with the means of recording monitoring visits for VGF, starting in Apr 2003 FFW visits have been adjusted to include all associated visits (i.e. to the FDRC, the site, the PDC where food is being distributed to workers and to the home of the beneficiary-worker.

Access as at end April 2003

Access : 162
No Access: 44
Total Counties: 206


A total of 92 projects for about 23,200 mt were approved for the FFW spring season, 75% (68 projects) on the east and 25% (24 projects) on the west coast, targeting the most vulnerable counties and benefiting about 600,000 persons directly. As WFP cereal stocks are low, the government agreed to loan some 9,000 mt of commodities from their own stocks to distribute the initial fifty percent of the FFW rations for the east coast projects. This loan will be re-paid in kind, on a 1:1 basis, upon the arrival of the German wheat shipment in early May.

During the month, opportunities for interagency collaboration were explored. WFP discussed possible FFW project options with UNICEF to support their water and sanitation projects in WFP-supported child institutions in Ryanggang and North Hamgyong provinces for the autumn FFW window. Concern Worldwide, an Irish NGO, and WFP will collaborate on a reforestation and soil conservation project in South Pyongan province, with a WFP food aid input of about 800 mt. A proposal to this effect will be submitted by Concern through the government to WFP.

Local Food Production

Total output for April was about 4,130 mt, with most of the 18 factories operating during the month. Insufficient wheat and wheat flour supplies affected noodle and CB (cereal blend) production in Pyongyang, while the Hamhung CSB (corn soya blend) factory shifted to producing CB as maize and soya stocks ran out. Maintenance and repairs, along with problems in power supply also hampered production in the factories. The LFP unit minimized loss in production by instituting transfers of constituent commodities between the factories to ensure continued operations.

During the month, WFP agreed with the government to purchase wheat-milling equipment for the Munchon biscuit factory in Kangwon province. It was also agreed that one of the Pyongyang-based LFP trucks would be positioned in Sinuiju to assist the biscuit and noodle factories, mainly in the movement of raw food materials and packaging.


Caritas Hong Kong issued an appeal for the period, April 1, 2003 to March 31, 2004 (USD 2.67 million value), to support and assist food aid, health care, food security/agriculture, capacity building and training in the DPR Korea. Priority areas for assistance are the east and north east provinces, with planned food aid assistance at 37% of the total appeal. Over USD 27 million of humanitarian aid has been provided through CARITAS for the country since 1995.

The Mennonite Central Committee, through Caritas Hong Kong, agreed with the government to provide 105 mt of canned meat for distribution to pregnant and nursing women, children in orphanages and to pediatric hospitals in the Kangwon, North Hamgyong, South Hamgyong and Ryanggang provinces. This donation (valued at USD 490,000) is expected to arrive in May.

Commodity Arrivals

A total of 590 mt of food (USA) arrived in April on the MV Sonora Trade Fortune at Nampo port: 321 mt of rice, 44 mt of vegetable oil and 225 mt of peas.

Staffing Update

WFP international staff contingent remained at 41 throughout the month.