In comparison to these adverse years, 1998 and 1999 saw relative stability in agricultural production. However, production trends during these years, indicate that DPR Korea has entered an era of relatively low-input low-output agriculture. Even in the absence of major natural hazards, therefore, domestic food production will remain well below minimum needs due to serious lack of investment and essential inputs into agriculture. Despite substantial improvement in the 1999 crop season, fertilizer availability remains well below requirements. Fuel and energy for critical mechanized operations are in very short supply, whilst large numbers of tractors and machines are inoperable due to lack of spare parts and replacement. These, in turn, are due to serious economic contraction and critical shortage of foreign exchange for necessary purchases of inputs and food. Shortage of capital has resulted in severely reduced land and labour productivity, whilst more and more operations are becoming labour intensive. Overall, therefore, under prevailing constraints, the country has serious problems of maintaining agricultural production and food supply.
Due to chronic food supply constraints, the last four years have already witnessed a significant decline in living standards, as per caput availability of food has shrunk, whilst serious health problems have increased due to lack of resources, drugs and essential supplies. A vicious circle of poor nutrition compounding poor health and vice versa has, therefore, become deeply entrenched. The full extent of the problem and the inter-linkages is not known as a comprehensive nutritional survey is yet to be undertaken. The government has advised that a nutrition survey will be carried out in April 2000. There will be no international participation as with the 1998 WFP/UNICEF/EU nutritional survey which indicated an acute malnutrition rate of 16 percent, amongst children six months to 7 years, which represents one of the highest rates of wasting in the world.
In view of chronic food supply problems, WFP has so far this marketing year (November/October) provided 96 000 tonnes of food assistance, and another 220 000 tonnes are scheduled for arrival in February and March. Assistance is concentrated on children under 16 in nurseries, kindergartens and primary and secondary schools, as well as pregnant and nursing women, orphans, hospital patients and the elderly. WFP is currently providing food aid to around 5.6 million beneficiaries and intends to make additional distributions during the lean season, from April to June. However, such distributions can only proceed if new donations are received as its pipeline for cereals runs dry in April.