Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland's Sept. 28 op-ed piece, "Hungry for Human Rights," rightly weighed in on the side of the poor and hungry citizens of North Korea, but the U.N. World Food Program (WFP) differs with the authors' assertions about monitoring and alleged food diversion.

With the cooperation of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea -- North Korea -- the WFP has expand- ed its monitoring capacity during the past 18 months and covers some 87 percent of the North Korean population via 300 to 400 visits a month. Further, it provides assistance only to areas where distributions can be monitored.

Although this system could be improved further, the authors' notion that up to half of the WFP's humanitarian food aid is diverted defies common sense. As in all large relief operations, the bags used to ship the food are reused and end up in the marketplace, but food aid through the WFP is far less likely to be diverted than food aid that is delivered bilaterally and to which few or no monitoring requirements are attached.

Large-scale surveys of children show that rates of stunted growth from malnutrition in North Korea -- while still unacceptably high -- have declined. The WFP's food-for-work activities create employment and strengthen infrastructure as well as feed families.

Although North Korea has asked the WFP to shift from humanitarian to development mode in 2006, two-thirds of the WFP's activities already contain some "capacity-building" elements.

The WFP is thus confident it can continue its mission to help the neediest in North Korea.

RICHARD RAGAN

Country Director, North Korea

U.N. World Food Program

Pyongyang