Giving Compass' Take:

• The Humanitarian Country Team outlines the needs in North Korea that funders can address even as political turmoil goes on. 

• Which of these issues is best aligned with your own mission and resources? 

• Learn more about North Korea's humanitarian crisis

Amid continuing geopolitical dynamics the situation for millions of people in the DPR Korea (DPRK) remains grim. The country’s most vulnerable people struggle with food insecurity and undernutrition and lack of access to basic services. As a result, around 10.9 million people remain in need of humanitarian assistance to cover their food, nutrition, health and water, sanitation and hygiene needs.

Chronic food insecurity

Chronic food insecurity and malnutrition is widespread in DPR Korea (DPRK), with profound humanitarian impacts for the most vulnerable people in the country. An estimated 11 million people, or 43.4 percent of the population, are undernourished. Agriculture annually falls short of meeting the needs by approximately one million tonnes, due to shortages of arable land, lack of access to modern agricultural equipment and fertilizers, and recurrent natural disasters. In July-August of 2018, there was a severe heat wave in the provinces considered to be the ‘food basket’ of the country, with temperatures up to 11 degrees higher than average. The chronic humanitarian situation was then further aggravated by Typhoon Soulik in late August, which brought heavy rains to South Hamgyong and Kangwon provinces, as well as flash floods on 29 and 30 August 2018 in North and South Hwanghae provinces.

Undernutrition is countrywide

Food insecurity and the nutritional status of people in DPRK are strongly interrelated. Many people do not consume an adequately diverse diet, reinforcing the cycle of undernutrition. In particular, young children and pregnant and lactating women suffer from chronic malnutrition because their diets lack vitamins, minerals, proteins and fats. According to the 2017 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), conducted by the Central Bureau of Statistics with support from UNICEF, one in five children in DPRK are stunted (chronically malnourished). These children will struggle to lead a normal life, facing impaired physical and cognitive development that cannot be reversed later in life. In addition to the effects of stunting being irreversible, these are also often passed on from one generation to another, creating a self-perpetuating cycle - malnourished women are more likely to have malnourished children.

Access to basic health services

In DPRK, communicable and non-communicable diseases remain major health concerns. Around nine million people are estimated to have limited access to quality health services. While health facilities exist throughout the country, they often do not have the essential medical equipment or life-saving medicines to provide quality health services. There is limited quality comprehensive health services, including for sexual and reproductive health, child health, disability, and aged care, as well as for communicable and non-communicable diseases. There is also limited professional competencies of health care providers to deliver at all levels of the health system; a situation that is exacerbated in primary health care level and more remote and rural areas. Furthermore, many health facilities struggle to maintain consistent water and electricity supplies putting patients at increased risk of infection and death.

Declining conditions in water, sanitation, and hygiene

While there has been some improvement in development indicators, as evidenced by improvements in stunting and wasting rates, as well as infant, child and maternal mortality, serious constraints in accessing safe drinking water, safely managed sanitation and hygiene services persist.

Natural disasters

DPRK is highly vulnerable to recurrent natural disasters. The IASC Index for Risk Management ranks DPRK 39 out of 191 countries in terms of disaster risk. Between 2004 and 2018, over 6.6 million people were affected by natural disasters such as drought and floods, compounding vulnerabilities, and increasing the need for assistance.

Operational challenges and constraints

The geopolitical situation related to DPRK remains fragile and difficult to predict. While Security Council sanctions imposed on the country clearly exempt humanitarian activities, humanitarian agencies continue to face serious unintended consequences on their programmes, such as lack of funding, the absence of a banking channel for humanitarian transfers and challenges to the delivery of humanitarian supplies.