Fri, Nov 21, 2003 - Page 5 News List

N Korea still in crisis, UN says


North Korea, slowly recovering from a famine in the late 1990s, is still in the middle of a humanitarian emergency with no relief in sight, UN aid officials warned yesterday.

Representatives of five UN agencies said crop production in North Korea was growing, more people were being fed and far fewer children suffered malnutrition than five years ago.

But the impoverished and isolated North is in the midst of a "chronic emergency ... without a clear end in sight", said Rick Corsino, the World Food Programme's director in Pyongyang, as the UN appealed for US$221 million in aid for next year.

"By all measures, [North Korea] remains a country in need of massive humanitarian support. The consequences of doing nothing are very substantial. If there's no response, or too weak a response, parts of the country will very likely revert to a food crisis."

Aid donations to North Korea had not met demand this year or last, he said. The WFP was given about two-thirds of the aid it asked for and UNICEF's projects this year were 50 percent underfunded.

Corsino declined to link the crisis over North Korea's nuclear weapons program, which began in October last year, to the aid shortfall, but said donations from the US and Japan had fallen.

The bulk of what the UN seeks this year -- US$190 million -- is for food aid designed to help 6.5 million people.

Critics say food aid helps support North Korea's 1.14-million-strong military, even if the food is not diverted to army barracks, because the government has said it reserves the first cut of harvests for the armed forces.

Pierrette Vu Thi, UNICEF's representative in North Korea, said 40 percent of children were chronically malnourished last year compared with 60 percent in 1998.

But about 70,000 children in the country of 23 million were still malnourished and risked death without medical care, she said.

Another reason to continue aid to North Korea was to support tentative and gradual economic reforms introduced last year, Corsino said.

Signs of economic activity had risen markedly since last November, he said. There were more construction projects and more regular supply of water and electricity to cities.

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