UN Food Agency Runs Out of Grain for Starving North Koreans


2004.02.10
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World Food Program in urgent call for international aid to bridge shortfall

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The World Food Program (WFP) issued a strong warning Monday that millions of North Korea's hungriest people would starve once more unless the international community responded with urgent humanitarian aid.

The United Nations agency said 6.5 million North Koreans, who are already suffering from severe malnourishment, would be deprived of vital rations between now and the next shipment of pledged donations in April.

"We are scraping the bottom of the barrel," Masood Hyder, WFP Representative for the DPRK, said in a statement issued in Beijing.

"The humanitarian imperative is especially compelling right now," Hyder said. "We have sounded numerous early warnings to try to secure sufficient food promptly for hungry North Koreans. This warning needs to be heard, and quickly acted on."

He said around four million of the people affected were from especially vulnerable groups, like children, women, and the elderly. "It's the middle of the harsh Korean winter and they need more food, not less," Hyder said.

Although donors had recently pledged contributions of up to 77,000 tons, the food was unlikely to arrive before April. Only 75,000 child-bearing women and 8,000 children in orphanages and hospitals were likely to receive WFP cereal distributions in February and March, the statement said.

"Many of those we cannot help are only consuming two-thirds of the calories they need," Hyder said. "Unless they get help very soon, the damage could be irreparable."

Reduced donations have left the WFP unable to feed many of the most needy in North Korea for two years, and recent progress in feeding the hungry in the isolated Stalinist state could be eliminated by the crisis, the agency said.

Forty-two percent of North Korean children suffer from chronic malnutrition, or stunting of growth, according to a 2002 survey carried out by UNICEF, WFP and the North Korean government, compared with 62 percent in 1998. One-third of mothers surveyed were malnourished and anemic, it said.

WFP's 2004 operation needed 485,000 tons of commodities valued at US$171 million. So far, only 140,000 tons have been secured — ; and much less has been delivered, the statement said.

Around 700,000 people did not receive cereals last November, with the number rising to 2.7 million last month. The agency expects a repeat crisis in June, when the currently pledged food aid — ; a three-month supply — ; runs out.

North Korea has relied on international aid to feed its 22 million people since the mid-1990s, after a series of weather-related disasters wreaked havoc on its already moribund economy. Hundreds of thousands of people, if not far more, are thought to have died of hunger over the last decade.

However, many North Koreans are unaware that international food aid to their isolated Stalinist country is frequently diverted to feed the military and bureaucrats, believing government propaganda that rest of the world is starving the country out, recent defectors have told RFA.

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