Photo: WFP/Rein Skullerud

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

The Situation

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has experienced widespread food shortages since the mid-1990s. Over 10M people – 40% of the population – need food assistance. Even more – 10.4M – lack access to essential health care, clean water, sanitation and hygiene services.

The country’s population, including the most vulnerable – 1.7 million children under age 5 [2] – are also living under the threat of recurrent natural disasters, and now, the global COVID-19 pandemic. There have been no official cases so far, but as in other poor countries an outbreak could quickly overwhelm the system.

Food Production

In spite of efforts to achieve agricultural self-sufficiency, the country does not produce enough food to feed its population of 24.8 million. Production is largely constrained by insufficient arable land, over-cultivation, a scarcity of quality fertilizers and pesticides, low mechanization and low levels of irrigation. These factors leave the agricultural system prone to climate shocks. DPRK was classified as “serious” on the 2015 Global Hunger Index.

The Impact on Kids 

Children, pregnant women, and nursing mothers are especially hard hit: 1 in 10 children under five is underweight; 1 in 5 is stunted; 30% of young children and 30% of their mothers are anaemic. In 2015, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) conducted a Food Security and Nutrition Assessment among children in WFP-supported nurseries, which showed that the 25.4 percent stunting prevalence in is at moderate to high levels.

A 2014 analysis by the U.N. World Food Programme found that 81 percent of DPRK’s population does not have acceptable diversity in their diet, consuming 25 percent less protein and 30 percent less fat than required for a healthy life, according to international standards.

Supporting Progress

There has been real progress in reducing infant and under-five mortality and malnutrition. Alongside advances in primary education and healthcare services, this means many children in DPRK are now getting a better start in life. These advances were made despite the limited amount of arable land, recurrent natural disasters made worse by climate change and trade and investment restrictions due to international sanctions. Uninterrupted and continuous support to DPRK is needed to sustain and protect these gains.

WFP's Work

The U.N. World Food Programme has been present in DPRK since 1995. We currently serve 900K people and hopes to reach 1.2M this year; it needs $54M to do so for the rest of 2020.

In support of the Government’s efforts to reduce hunger, the UN agency’s operation here has three objectives: 

  • Reduce hunger and undernutrition among women and children by providing nutrition support to improve dietary diversity through school and preschool meals and targeted nutrition support. This program is targeting 2.2 million women and children over the next three years.
  • Restore and rebuild livelihoods to enhance food security through food-for-community development activities.
  • Support the Government in reducing hunger and undernutrition through local production of fortified food. These life-saving interventions are targeting some 13 million people this year.

In addition, U.N. World Food Programme co-chairs the DPRK Food Security and Agriculture Working Group and the Nutrition Working Group.