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  • Population: 24,851,627 (July 2014 est.)
  • Human Development Index (rank among 187 countries): 139
  • GDP - per capita (purchasing power parity): US$1,8001 (2013 est.)
  • Life expectancy at birth: 69.81 years Infant mortality rate: 24.5 deaths/1,000 live births
  • Adult literacy rate: 100%

(Source: Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) The World Fact book 2014)


Oxfam’s brief history

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is an isolated country with a population of around 25 million. With little arable land and agricultural know-how among farmers, the country does not produce enough food to feed its population. In addition, DPRK suffers from frequent climate hazards such as chronic floods and catastrophic droughts, and has experienced widespread food shortages since the mid-1990s. In 2015, the country claimed that it experienced the worst drought in a century.

Today, there remains great need in terms of food and agriculture, health and nutrition, and water and sanitation. Almost one third of the population relies on food aid from abroad, and 70 per cent of the total population suffers from food insecurity. The chronic malnutrition rate among children under the age of five is roughly 28 per cent.


Oxfam in DPRK

In response to these needs, Oxfam has provided relief in the country since 1997. Our work focuses on both humanitarian (Disaster Risk Reduction) and development programmes. We provide emergency food assistance such as cooking oil and maize grains to vulnerable groups. We also support agricultural rehabilitation in cooperative farms in Pyongyang, South & North Pyongang and Kangwon provinces to improve sustainable food production. Furthermore, we support training opportunities for government officials from the State Committee of Emergency Disaster Management.


Our work's focus

Sustainable food and livelihoods – Sustainably increase food production at sub-work team level in face of chronic droughts and floods by adaptation and promotion of ecological farming practices. Improve farmers’ livelihoods and nutrition through cash crops, vegetable growing and small livestock raising at sub-work teams level.
Humanitarian response, saving lives now and in the future – Reduce disaster and climate-related loss of lives and livelihood assets of poor and vulnerable citizens in disaster- prone areas particularly for women, children, the elderly and persons living with disabilities (PLWD). We support emergency food responses, WASH initiatives and Disaster Risk Reduction, Preparedness and Management capacity building.
Research and application for food security – Improve research supplies and the quality of teaching in ecological farming and integrated farming systems for Korean agricultural students, faculties and scientists working in applied sciences. Strengthen linkage between lab research and field application to solve food security problems.

Our recent projects include:

  • Providing sustainable access to drinkable water and sanitation facilities in Sohung town located in the presently drought-hit North Hwanghae province
  • Supporting four Old People’s Homes in remote provinces to improve their livelihoods by providing oil presses to produce cooking oil and renewable energy generating devices
  • Supporting research in and teaching of practical application of integrated pest management and sustainable agriculture
  • Providing Disaster Risk Management and Reduction capacity building and study tours for Korean government officials
  • DPRK Flood Response in South Hwanghae Province


Impact of our work

Case excerpted from WASH project in Sohung town, a county in North Hwanghae province, DPRK

Being the main caregivers, women in rural parts of the DPRK are in charge of taking care of family  members; this includes carrying enough water for the whole family from the well every day. For some women who live higher up in their building, this can be even more physically demanding. However, the water that these women carry home isn’t always clean. Since the water from the well is near the ground, it’s easily contaminated; meaning people often get sick because of it. Speaking with Mrs. Chong, a resident of Sohung City, we heard how things have changed for her:

‘I used to use a hand pump to fetch water for my family. It was time consuming and because the water quality was not good, diarrhoea was very common. With the newly established drinking water supply system, we now have a tap at home and diseases because of unclean water, such as diarrhoea, have become less common. It is very good that we have a new piped water supply system.’

With safe water and sanitation making such a positive impact on residents’ lives, OHK has worked with INGO partners since 2013 to improve sustainable access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities for around 8,700 inhabitants in Sohung town, a county in North Hwanghae province of the DPRK.

Improved water facility in a household in District 1, Sohung town. Photo credit: Olivier Hariot

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  1. Data are in 2013 US dollars; North Korea does not publish reliable National Income Accounts data; the data shown here are derived from purchasing power parity (PPP) GDP estimates for North Korea that were made by Angus MADDISON in a study conducted for the OECD; his figure for 1999 was extrapolated to 2011 using estimated real growth rates for North Korea's GDP and an inflation factor based on the US GDP deflator; the results were rounded to the nearest $10 billion.