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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 May 2006, 08:41 GMT 09:41 UK
UN agency to resume N Korean aid
North Korean farmers work at their rice paddies as two Koreas delegations meet for their second day meeting at the North Korean border city of Kaesong, May 17, 2005.
N Korea has been reliant on aid for more than a decade
North Korea is to allow renewed shipments of international food aid six months after it cracked down on foreign aid agencies.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) is to resume its operations in the North, but on a much smaller scale than before.

Pyongyang last year said it did not need foreign aid - a move seen as an attempt to curb monitoring activities by outsiders in the secretive society.

The WFP said such a change would leave millions of people hungry.

The two sides have been negotiating a solution ever since, and Tony Banbury, the WFP regional director, hailed the deal as an "important breakthrough".

The WFP, which hopes to resume its operation within two weeks, will now only feed 1.9m of the "most needy" people in North Korea, Mr Banbury told a news conference on Thursday.

He appealed for fresh pledges of aid from donors to meet the new demand.

In previous years, it provided food for 6.5m people.

Under the new operation, foreign WFP staffing will be one-third of what it was, and provincial offices have been closed, restricting it to a much smaller area than before.

Legacy of famine

North Korea has relied for more than a decade on foreign donations to feed its people.

The WFP began working in the country in the mid 1990s, after about two million people died from famine.

AVERAGE DAILY INTAKE
An average urban dweller gets 250g cereal from government
In addition, can afford approx 30g maize
And may forage for mushrooms, edible grasses, acorns etc
Recommended amount is 550-590g of blend of foods, equivalent to 2,100kcal
Source: WFP

But it suspended aid in September when the North Koreans asked it to switch its focus to economic development, not food hand-outs, saying harvests had improved.

North Korea has continued to ask for food aid from China and South Korea, which do not insist on full monitoring of its distribution.

That raised concern the food could be sent to the military or members of the political elite rather than those most in need, says the BBC correspondent in Seoul, Charles Scanlon.

Malnourishment

According to the WFP, the country still faces a sizeable cereals deficit, and North Korea still cannot feed its own people even with a good harvest.

According to the most recent large-scale survey, in October 2004, the WFP found that 37% of young children were chronically malnourished, and one-third of mothers were malnourished and anaemic.

In a recent report Human Rights Watch said a return to state rationing was leaving the most vulnerable people at risk. It said food was distributed in a discriminatory manner favouring those seen as loyal to the regime.

Mr Banbury said the new, limited, food distribution programme was "not everything we wanted, but it's a sound base to get started on again - and to build on".


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