Press Briefing

Report
from UN Children's Fund
Published on 29 Oct 1997
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) had a major opportunity to prevent children in the Democratic People's
Republic of Korea from falling victim to a disastrous famine, Omawale Omawale, the Fund's Special Representative in
Pyongyang told a Headquarters press briefing this afternoon.
Warning that the country faced a famine of major proportions unless there was an adequate humanitarian response, Mr.
Omawale told correspondents that the depletion of supplies threatened to prevent doctors and caregivers from adequately
performing their child-care functions.

"Previously more than 90 per cent of children from ages maybe about four months until about six years old were in nurseries
and kindergartens. These institutions still exist; there are doctors and caregivers everywhere. The thing is that they have not had the supplies in the system to perform their functions, meaning the doctors have not had drugs and the caregivers have not had enough food for the children".

He said that as UNICEF got those supplies into the institutions, more and more children were returning to them, presenting a
major opportunity for looking after them, at least in the short term.

As UNICEF began to receive assistance for the health sector, the situation seemed to be improving, he said, although there
was a need to focus on water and sanitation which were not usually regarded as humanitarian relief. "But if kids continue to get diarrhoea, dysentery, gastroenteritis and things of this nature, no amount of food is going to resolve the problem, they won't be able to eat, frankly".

Mr. Omawale said the characterization of the problem in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea as a food crisis had been less than adequate since that country also faced water, sanitation and health-care problems.

The typical images of famine situations, such as the mass movements of people and dead bodies lying in the streets, were
absent, he said. That was partly because the Democratic People's Republic was a very ordered society and such things would not be allowed to occur in any event. Poverty existed in all parts of the country that one could not evade it by moving from one place to another. Asked whether the food already sent to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was getting to the people, Mr. Omawale said there was a problem with the distribution of everything, "food, medical supplies and otherwise", because there was a fuel shortage in the country and vehicles were in a poor state. However, food was being transported although there had not been enough until very recently.

Asked by a correspondent if the crisis was a reflection of political collapse, Mr. Omawale said it was more a reflection of a
major economic crisis going beyond the floods of the last few years.

Asked to describe the cooperation between the host Government and international aid organizations, Mr. Omawale said
UNICEF had a free hand. Some of its sister organizations had complained about a lack of access which took various forms.
"We have not had that problem up until now; of course, our operation is much smaller than, say, the World Food Programme's operation, which is quite massive."