Democratic People’s Republic of Korea:

A Tale of Relentless Hunger

The DPRK (North Korea) has experienced widespread food shortages since the mid-1990s. Over 10M people – 40% of the population – need food assistance. Many people suffer from chronic malnutrition due to lack of essential proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals.


of children are stunted




people are undernourished

isolated and starving

DPRK continues to face a wide range of food and nutrition security challenges, which add to the protracted humanitarian situation in the country. Agriculture annually falls short of meeting food needs, due to shortages of arable land, lack of access to modern agricultural equipment and fertilizers, and recurrent disasters. And an increase in climate-related disasters sees droughts, floods, typhoons and heatwaves causing soil leeching, erosion, landslides and damage to crops and infrastructure. Even minor disasters can significantly reduce agricultural production and the availability of food, stressing communities’ already limited coping capacities. According to INFORM Global Risk Index 2021, DPRK ranked 29th among 191 countries for such disasters, and was placed in the high-risk category.

Economic and political issues add further difficulties, with restrictions on international trade and investments imposed by the United Nations Security Council. The strong link between food insecurity and malnutrition means any negative impact on agriculture and food production has widespread and long-lasting consequences, and compounds the already widespread undernutrition that affects millions in the country

More than 40 percent of the population are undernourished and require humanitarian assistance, according to the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World Report 2022. And many suffer from chronic malnutrition due to lack of essential proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals. 

Those living outside towns and cities have worse diets, with many relying on rural relatives, improvised ‘kitchen gardens’ or market activities to supplement the food they receive through the Government’s Public Distribution System. The system consistently provides lower food rations than the Government’s daily target.

Poor nutrition is particularly problematic for young children, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers, as good nutrition is crucial in a child’s early years. Stunting (impaired growth and development due to chronic malnutrition) affects nearly one in five children under 5.


The U.N. World Food Programme has been present in DPRK since 1995. From January – March 2021, the last round of food distributions, WFP reached over 500,000 people. 


Each month, WFP provides specialized nutritious food to around a million pregnant women, nursing mothers and children, helping to reduce acute and chronic malnutrition. These fortified foods include blended cereals or biscuits with added protein, vitamins and minerals, which boost the micronutrients, fats and proteins in people’s daily diets. WFP targets this assistance to supported institutions including nurseries, hospitals, paediatric wards and some boarding schools. WFP also provides support to the factories that produce fortified foods.

Photo: WFP/Silke Buhr/2018
Disaster Risk Reduction

When possible, WFP works to reduce communities’ vulnerability to climate shocks with disaster risk-reduction measures. This helps mitigate climate risk, reduce the need for humanitarian action and contribute to food security by addressing threats to agricultural land and production. Activities – which include repairing embankments, dredging rivers, planting trees and improving soils to restore and protect the environment – also support training, especially among women, creating temporary employment and supplementing families’ food stocks.

Crisis Response

On the occasion of major droughts in 2014 and 2015, humanitarian partners responded providing life-saving assistance to 1.3 million people. Severe flooding in August 2015 and August 2016 also required significant humanitarian interventions. WFP maintains the capacity to provide in-kind emergency food assistance to crisis and disaster-affected communities when required, ensuring those affected have access to food in times of emergency.

Photo: WFP/Rein Skullerud
Photo: WFP/Silke Buhr/2018

Help Save Lives by Sending Food

You can help deliver food to vulnerable populations in North Korea and other countries by donating to WFP.