"The commitments to date are very important, because they will ensure that many of the children, women and elderly people currently deprived of outside support are fed again", said Rick Corsino, WFP Country Director for the DPRK.
"It is also crucial that more contributors come forward quickly, because there is nothing in the pipeline beyond June."
On 25 February, US Secretary of State Colin Powell announced an initial US contribution for 2003 of 40,000 metric tons of commodities.
He added that a further 60,000 tonnes would be made available if improvements in WFP's ability to access the needy and monitor distributions are allowed.
A contribution of 46,000 tonnes of wheat purchased with funds provided by the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) is due to begin arriving in the DPRK next week.
The targeted beneficiaries are children in nurseries, kindergartens and primary schools, and pregnant and nursing women.
WFP, by far the largest aid agency in the DPRK, hoped to mobilise 512,000 tonnes of food for 6.4 million people during 2003, but deliveries have fallen well short of needs. Additional pledges of more than 325,000 tonnes are required for the remainder of the year.
A sharp slide in donations, which began last year, left the UN agency unable to feed 2.9 million of its 4.2 million "core" beneficiaries by end-February, up from 2.2 million in January.
"There's no such thing as retroactive feeding," Corsino noted.
WFP primarily targets urban residents who cannot easily obtain food outside the government-run Public Distribution System, which serves some 70 per cent of the 23 million population.
This year, the PDS expects to provide an average of no more than 270 grams of food per person per day - less than half a survival ration.
"This is clearly not enough for the average human being", Corsino said.
"The situation has been made worse as the cut-off in WFP aid has occurred during the country's harsh winter months when caloric needs increase."
Aid arrivals over the coming weeks will allow a temporary resumption of some distributions, and a re-opening of a number of WFP-supported food factories shut down for lack of donor-supplied ingredients.
RIGHT TO KNOW
The recent pledges underscore the distinction donors make between humanitarian imperatives and political considerations, Corsino said, but added that contributors have a right to know their food is reaching the vulnerable.
"While our operating conditions have improved over the years, they are still more restrictive than in other recipient countries. Above all, we are not allowed to carry out truly random spot checks at distribution sites. We raise these issues with the DPRK authorities at every opportunity, and will continue to do so. "
IMPROVING CHILD MALNUTRITION RATES
WFP funding shortfalls come against a backdrop of improving child malnutrition rates, according to a survey released in February (see box).
"It would be a tragedy if they were to be reversed. We sincerely hope donors can keep the pipeline flowing, so that WFP can fully implement its operation for the remainder of the year", Corsino said
Child Malnutrition in DPRK: Survey
WFP food aid targeted at young children and child-bearing women in DPRK has been critical in improving child malnutrition rates, according to a survey released last month
The survey, conducted in October by the DPRK government, UNICEF and WFP, shows a drop in child malnutrition rates since the last such assessment in 1998
The proportion of underweight children under seven years fell to 21 per cent from 61 per cent; wasting, or acute malnutrition, fell to 9 per cent from 16 per cent; and stunting, or chronic malnutrition, fell to 42 per cent from 62 per cent.
For more information on WFP's DPRK operation, contact:
WFP DPRK Country Director, Pyongyang
Tel. +85-02-3817 239
WFP Public Affairs Officer, Beijing
Tel. +86-10-6532 3731 ext. 209
WFP Chief Spokesperson, Rome