Help is starting to reach hungry North Korea. A ship carrying tens of
thousands of tons of grain from the United States has arrived at a North Korean
port. The shipment follows a North Korean deal with the World Food Program to
expand its reach in the country. VOA's Kurt Achin reports from
The American ship carrying 37,000 tons of wheat arrived Sunday
in the North Korean port of Nampo. It is the first installment of half a
million tons of food aid promised by the United States to the impoverished
Two days earlier, the United Nations World Food Program signed a
new agreement with Pyongyang to bolster its presence in North Korea. Paul
Risley, spokesman for the WFP's Asia operations, says the deal is great news for
North Korea's malnourished population.
"It will allow for increased
staff, it will allow for much larger amounts of food, and instead of feeding
roughly one million people we feed presently, we will likely be able to feed
close to the five million people we estimate are hungry," he said.
North Korea has experienced food shortages for
decades as the result of self-imposed economic isolation and mismanagement of
resources. The problem culminated in the mid-90s, when up to a million North
Koreans are believed to have died in a famine. Last year's heavy flooding in the
North, made worse by the population's clear-cutting of mountains for food and
fuel, has severely impacted this year's harvest.
Friday's agreement with
the WFP will put 50 WFP workers in North Korea over the next year, up from the
current ten people. It also allows the teams to distribute food in areas
previously off limits.
Risley says desperate times may have helped coax
North Korea away from its usual reclusiveness.
"There is a growing
awareness by the government of DPRK, and a growing openness toward an expanded
international presence," he added. "In particular, when it comes to food
Risley adds, the U.S. shipment that arrived Sunday was
contingent on the new WFP deal.
"The U.S. was reluctant to provide the
first installment of its food aid until that agreement was reached by WFP and by
the government," he said.
The World Food Program has a policy of only
distributing food in areas where it can monitor distribution to ensure food
reaches the most needy. Washington has expressed concerns in the past that
unmonitored aid may be diverted to North Korea's military and political
South Korea has not yet sent food aid to the North, but that may
change soon as the result of progress in negotiations on nuclear weapons. Even
without sending food, Seoul is assisting the North in its crisis: the World Food
Program says South Korea puts up most of the funding for the agency's operations
in the North