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WFP Reaches Deal to Expand Food Aid to North Korea as U.S. Wheat Arrives

BY Admin  June 30, 2008 at 2:00 PM EST

North Korean field; Credit 2007 WFP/Mike Dunford

With the new agreement between the U.N. and North Korea, the WFP can monitor 128 counties in North Korea, as opposed to 50 before, and send 50 additional food relief experts into the historically isolated country.

Under the agreement, aid workers will be able to enter remote counties that have never been accessible to humanitarian organizations.

“It will make all the difference in the world to those 3 or 4 million or people who are now going to get food aid who were not getting it before and didn’t have enough to eat,” said Tony Banbury, WFP Asia regional director, according to Reuters.

Following a devastating flood in August 2007, two years of poor harvest and rising grain prices worldwide, the WFP estimates a cereal shortfall of 1.5 million tons, the largest need since 2001.

An estimated 6 million people of a 23-million population remain in severe need of food, according to the WFP.

To make matters worse, relations between North and South Korea soured after a South Korea’s election in February handed power to conservative president Lee Myung Bak. After taking office, Lee suspended delivery of 400,000 tons of rice and fertilizer his more liberal predecessor shipped each year to North Korea.

Lee said South Korea would help provide help if requested, but North Korea rejected 50,000 tons of corn from Lee’s government and called him “a traitor to the nation.”

As part of the U.S. food aid effort, the U.S.-flagged M/V Baltimore arrived in Nampo carrying 37,000 tons of U.S.-grown wheat and began unloading on Monday. In total, the U.S. has promised 500,000 tons of aid that will be distributed by the WFP and other relief agencies.

The WFP estimates that with the U.S. assistance, it will be able to expand aid from helping 1.2 million to more than 5 million.

On Friday, tensions over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions eased slightly after it destroyed part of its plutonium-producing nuclear plant in Yongbyon as sign of its commitment to halt its nuclear weapons program. President Bush announced Friday that he would remove North Korea from the U.S. terrorism and sanctions list.