By Kim Young-jin
North Korea and other countries with food shortages must do more to feed their most vulnerable citizens, especially children, the chief of the U.N. food agency said Thursday in Seoul, days before heading to Pyongyang on an official visit.
“It is not optional not to reach people in their country to ensure adequate food security,” Josette Sheeran, executive director of the World Food Program (WFP) told reporters in Seoul. “Food security and defeating hunger are the responsibility of each government and community.”
Sheeran was scheduled to head to China later in the day before a two-day trip to the North, where she plans to hold meetings at “the highest-levels we can.”
Asked whether she would meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il or his youngest son, the country’s heir apparent, Shereen said her team had not received its final schedule from Pyongyang.
The agency currently serves some 671,000 in the impoverished North, with a focus on malnourished children. But Sheeran said this falls well short of its assessed needs, as the agency is only 20 percent funded to meet its targets.
“We are reaching only a portion of the most vulnerable,” she said. “One of our messages to the world is to appeal for funds to be able to support the program we have assessed for North Korea,” she said.
The country has experienced food shortages since the mid-nineties when the country was hit by natural disasters as well as mismanagement. In some areas, between 35 and 40 percent of children do not have access to adequate nutrition, according to the WFP.
She hailed South Korea, which recently became a member of the WFP board of directors, for playing a bridging role between advanced and developing countries as host of the upcoming G20 Seoul Summit. “Korea has ensured that the issues of vulnerability are critical and central to the G20,” she said.
The WFP chief discussed with South Korean officials and lawmakers ways to share the nation’s experience in overcoming poverty with developing nations.
The agency will host a seminar in Italy to share Korea’s “Saemaeul Undong,” or New Village rural development model with developing nations “to see what they can learn from that experience.
Sheeran met with Seoul officials including Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan to discuss ways deepen cooperation as well as humanitarian aid to the North.
The visit came a day after the North demanded 500,000 tons of rice from the South in exchange for concessions on reunions of family members separated by the 1950-53 Korean War. The two countries failed to reach an agreement on regularizing the reunions.