DPR of Korea UN relief chief warns against abrupt withdrawal of food

“We are very concerned because we think this is too soon and too abrupt,” Jan Egeland, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, told a news briefing at UN Headquarters in New York.Earlier this month DPRK told the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) that it wants an end to “all humanitarian operations” by UN agencies by the end of 2005 and the closure of all rural aid offices, with only “development” assistance allowed from next year.Mr. Egeland said he was optimistic that the UN can work out a solution with Pyongyang that will allow the current relief schemes to be converted into the more acceptable development programmes.He said that if this does not occur, he still preferred a “phased end” to aid programmes providing food and medicines. Despite a bumper harvest earlier this year, Mr. Egeland said “there will not be enough food” over the next year.”My heart goes out to the children of North Korea, and I appeal to the Government” to help us help their people, he said.The DPRK’s decision affects OCHA’s operations and the food and medicine relief efforts of other UN agencies, including the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO), and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).By only allowing “development” assistance, likely to be carried out by virtually the same UN agencies and NGOs that currently provide food and medicine, an element of uncertainty has been added to the year-end deadline, Mr. Egeland said.For example, a school food programme that enables children to stay in school could potentially be classed under development. But OCHA is not sure which programmes will fall under this definition.Mr. Egeland also said he was unsure how many of the relief programmes could be converted from a funding standpoint either, possibly because of individual donor requirements. “I am hopeful, but I am also very worried,” he said.Although UN humanitarian relief over the past 10 years has reduced acute malnutrition from 16 per cent to 7 per cent of the population in 2004-05, and chronic malnutrition from 62 per cent to 37 per cent, he said that to leave now would mean derailing the process.In a separate statement, Christiane Berthiaume of the World Food Programme (WFP) said nearly 6.5 million persons needed food aid in 2004-05 and that even with that help, many people have still had trouble with the soaring prices of food.

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