[VIEWPOINT]Korean food aid is invaluable

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[VIEWPOINT]Korean food aid is invaluable

The government and people of the Republic of Korea are key players in the campaign to end global hunger, to my mind the most compelling ― and curable ― crisis confronting us all.
There is more than enough food on our planet for everyone, yet we are losing the battle. Food aid flows have been falling: from 15 million tons in 1999 to 10 million tons last year. At the same time, the UN General Assembly has set itself the goal of halving the number of hungry by 2015.
Many South Koreans remember what it is like to go hungry, and know that external food assistance helped ease the pain. But now, the private sector here is as competitive as it is dynamic. The World Food Programme hopes to enlist its support to help meet the enormous challenges confronting us, especially in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The average seven-year-old there is 20 centimeters (8 inches) shorter and 10 kilograms (22 pounds) lighter than his South Korean cousin, and it costs just $26 to feed him for a year.
The Republic of Korea is one of the biggest suppliers of aid to the DPRK. While the total volume of assistance channeled to the North through WFP has declined since 2001, the South maintained its commitment at 100,000 tons of commodities annually in each of the past three years. We are deeply grateful for this vital support.
The aid has made the difference between hunger and misery, and a decent life for millions of Koreans in the North. A large survey conducted in 2002 by WFP and UNICEF found four out of 10 North Korean children to be afflicted by chronic malnutrition, down from six out of 10 in 1998. But a downturn in overall donations for WFP’s DPRK operation since then has forced millions of the most vulnerable off our distribution plans for long periods.
Thankfully, recent shipments and pledges will allow us to feed all 6.5 million targeted beneficiaries for the first time in over two years. But we cannot afford to be complacent. As things stand, we will run out of cereals, our staple commodity, in February.
Food aid should feed as many of the hungriest and most vulnerable as possible, as effectively as possible. Mechanisms allowing proper evaluation of the effectiveness of the assistance should be in place. The DPRK government imposes limitations on WFP that are more stringent than anywhere else we work. But that does not mean hungry North Korean need international assistance any less.
We implement a strict “no access, no food” policy, meaning assistance is only provided to areas where our staff can monitor. We have access to 161 of the DPRK’s 203 counties and districts, accounting for 85 percent of the population.
During its nine-year presence in the DPRK, WFP has progressively refined its targeting mechanisms to more effectively reach the most at-risk segments of the population. This infrastructure costs, but helps ensure that those who need assistance receive it.
The big challenge now is to ensure that the international community stands united to provide every hungry North Korean with the food they need. WFP cherishes the support of the Republic of Korea.

* The writer is the director of the UN World Food Programme.

by James Morris
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