Humanitarian aid in favour of vulnerable groups in DPRK


Amount of Decision: EUR 8,000,000
Decision reference number: ECHO/PRK/BUD/2006/01000

Explanatory Memorandum

1 - Rationale, needs and target population.

1.1- Rationale:

The protracted humanitarian crisis in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) is caused by a combination of the continuing decline of the economy and an inability of the Government to effectively redress the situation with appropriate development measures. The floods of the mid-1990s exposed the humanitarian magnitude of the fast deteriorating living conditions in the DPRK that resulted from the dissolution of its relationship with the former Soviet bloc economies after the ending of the Cold War. As a major catastrophe involving according to some sources up to an estimated 2 million casualties at that time, this crisis set off one of the biggest humanitarian aid operations in history.

There is a growing consensus among the international aid agencies working in DPRK that the humanitarian situation has stabilized. The nutritional status of the population has levelled off to a degree of chronic malnutrition similar to levels found in several countries in South East Asia. Food security has been improving following an increase in agricultural production that came as a result of external support to inputs, adjustments to the cropping system, and increased cultivation of marginal land on slopes (although this does present concerns for the longer term). Exchanges of surpluses among the population have become somewhat easier since small-scale trade was again permitted following the introduction of a first, albeit very timid, economic reform package in 2002.

At the same time the situation in DPRK remains fragile as no real change has taken place with regard to the fundamental causes of the humanitarian crisis. Risk of relapse into the famine conditions of the mid-1990s persists. The country remains food deficient with an annual gap of 800,000-1,000,000 tons, 15-20 % of the total estimated requirement. To cover this gap it continues to depend heavily on international food aid, now mainly provided on a bilateral basis by the Republic of Korea (ROK) and China(1). There is a lack of openness and unwillingness on the side of the DPRK Government to discuss solutions with the international community as is evident from the way in which its unilateral decision to stop humanitarian aid programmes at the end of 2005 was taken.

DPRK recognizes its need for international aid aimed at poverty reduction if it is to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. However, lack of progress in restoring relations with the international community, concerns about DPRK's nuclear activities and the testing of ballistic missiles, mean that the country has extremely limited access to other aid instruments except humanitarian aid.

The DPRK Government requested its donors to end humanitarian aid for the first time in 2004 and finally enforced it by instruction in August 2005. This move was strongly questioned by the donor community not because of the demand to move on from humanitarian aid to development aid, but as the argument was clearly mixed with considerations related to internal security and the desire to reduce scrutiny by international aid agencies in general and the presence of expatriate aid workers in DPRK in particular.

Out of 11 projects funded by DG ECHO(2) that were under implementation in December 2005, 8 had to be suspended. Previously, 2 DG ECHO partners had already decided to terminate their contracts and leave DPRK. The Water and Sanitation Decision (ECHO/PRK/BUD/2005/03000) taken in October 2005, had to be cancelled without attributing contracts. At the request of the DPRK Government, negotiations took place in February 2006, which provided the basis for an arrangement allowing partners to reactivate all suspended DG ECHO funded projects in April 2006(3). The Government established the Korean European Cooperation Coordination Agency (KECCA), which replaced the former structure of the Flood Disaster Relief Committee (FDRC), created in the aftermath of the 1996 inundations.

Following an extensive field review mission(4) in June 2006, DG ECHO concluded that the new arrangement is a pragmatic solution whose level of functioning is considered acceptable to the extent that the NGO partners can achieve the objectives of their current contracts within the remaining period of the Decision ECHO/PRK/BUD/2005/01000. The same mission, however, recommends the phasing out of the DG ECHO programme in DPRK. The evolution in the humanitarian situation no longer justifies humanitarian assistance to DPRK as defined within the mandate of DG ECHO. Most of the ongoing projects have increasingly evolved into transition type of interventions. However, given the character of these interventions in line with earlier DG ECHO strategies in DPRK and the paucity of alternative funding sources, it is necessary to propose an ad hoc Decision for an 18-month phasing out period. This Decision would combine water and sanitation and health as the principal sectors of DG ECHO intervention in DPRK.


(1) During the last 4 years on average 75-85% of all food aid was provided by China and ROK, whereas in preceding years it was about 50%. As a result of this assistance both countries have now emerged as major food aid donors on a global scale.

(2) Directorate General for Humanitarian Aid - ECHO

(3) The 6 DG ECHO partners present in DPRK established together the European Union Programme Support (EUPS) in which their respective teams work in separate units as groups of experts on their different projects. Having foregone all visible reference to their individual organisations, it allows the NGOs to continue working in DPRK and implement projects funded by the European Commission, without the need for a change in the legal status of the contracts for such projects.

(4)18 June 2006 - 4 July 2006. Participants: desk officer DG ECHO-HQ, head of DG ECHO-RSO Bangkok and 2 DG ECHO resident technical advisors.