Warning that its emergency operation feeding 6.5 million particularly vulnerable people in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is severely under-funded, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today appealed urgently for new donations to carry it through until the end of the year. “This year’s food crisis in the North has been exceptionally severe owing to an acute lack of affordable local staples, not least because of record-high cereal prices in private markets,” WFP Executive Director James Morris said in Seoul, Republic of Korea (ROK), at the end of a two day visit. “One consequence is a sharp increase in the consumption of wild foods – grasses, brackens, acorns and seaweed – which the young and the old have great difficulty digesting,” he added. Shortfalls in donations again this year have obliged WFP to halt vital distributions to millions of the most needy, often for months at a time, in a country that has suffered years of hardship from floods, droughts and economic changes. WFP needs additional donations amounting to 140,000 tons to fully cover the rest of the year. At present, WFP is unable to provide rations of cereals, its staple commodity, to nearly one million people, for the most part the elderly and poor urban residents. Without fresh pledges, the number will rise 1.3 million in September, 2.9 million in October and 3.2 million in November, and include young children and pregnant and nursing women. Stocks of other, more nourishing foods are severely depleted. All 1.8 million nursery and kindergarten children, orphans and women of child-bearing age entitled to a daily WFP ration of pulses are now having to go without this crucial source of scarce protein. No fewer than 2.7 million children, women and elderly are being deprived of enriched vegetable oil, a key source of the fats essential for physical and mental growth. While praising the ROK’s recent pledges of bilateral assistance to the DPRK, including 350,000 tons of fertiliser and 500,000 tons of rice, Mr. Morris said food channeled through WFP is the best way to reach the most vulnerable. “The World Food Programme is by far the largest humanitarian agency in the DPRK, and over the past 10 years we have progressively refined our targeting and monitoring mechanisms there to ensure the aid donors provide goes to the hungriest of the hungry.” He noted that a new WFP monitoring system designed to better track the movement of food commodities from arrival to consumption, and allow greater access to distributions and more random access to beneficiaries, had been endorsed by the DPRK Government and is now being implemented.