North Korea is running out of food

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http://www.nandotimes.com/world/story/163334p-1556224c.html

World: North Korea is running out of food, World Food Program official warns Copyright 2001 AP Online By JOE McDONALD, Associated Press

BEIJING (November 3, 2001 12:31 p.m. EST) - Warning that North Korea will run short of food by next year, a U.N. official said Saturday that his agency will seek foreign donors willing to give 610,000 tons of grain to get the starving country through the winter.

The North's harvest this year was bigger than in 2000 but still 1.47 million tons short of what it needs, said David Morton, representative of the World Food Program in the North. Part of that gap has been filled with donations from Japan, South Korea, the United States and others.

"The food pipeline from donors will stop in January," Morton said at a news conference. "We will need to revive donor contributions ... so that the beneficiaries, the children, don't run out of food in the middle of the winter."

Isolated, secretive North Korea, the world's last Stalinist dictatorship, has relied on food aid since the mid-1990s. State farms have suffered a string of floods and droughts, worsening damage done by decades of mismanagement and loss of Soviet subsidies.Morton emphasized that despite a better harvest this year, aid officials see no sign of a sustained recovery.

Children are eating better but hospitals have run out of medicines, he said. Aid agencies have gotten only a limited response to appeals for foreign help to supply clean drinking water. The harvest this year was about as low as in other hunger-stricken years, Morton said. Last year, grain production had a record shortfall of 2.2 million tons, in part because North Korea lacks pesticides, fuel and other farm supplies. Morton said about one-third as much fertilizer is available as in the early 1990s.

"The fact that we got through the past 12 months without major starvation, I think, is a tribute to the success of the aid groups," Morton said. Small farmers markets have eased shortages in cities, but prices are high, Morton said. A government employee's monthly salary buys little more than 2 pounds of rice.

However, aid workers know little about such markets because they aren't allowed to visit, Morton said. Despite some recent relaxations, North Korea still bars them from many areas.

North Korean officials are stressing economic development over aid in an attempt to end their dependence on donations, said Morton, who also represents the U.N. Development Program in Pyongyang, the North's capital. "We do not see a possibility for a long-term sustained ability of the country to feed itself until the economy as a whole recovers," he said.

The North must attract private investment because aid agencies can't supply enough money to rebuild the country, he said. He said the North has ventured into processing goods under contract for South Korean firms and other businesses.

Nevertheless, Morton said, there is no indication that the North is abandoning its state-run economy. "There is no indication that the DPRK is considering any change in its system that we can detect," he said.

-- Swissrose (cellier3@mindspring.com), November 03, 2001


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