Sun, Dec 21, 2003 - Page 5 News List

North Korea runs out of UN food

REUTERS , BEIJING

Nearly 4 million North Koreans will be deprived of UN food rations by February if foreign donors do not provide more aid to the communist state, the head of the UN World Food Program said yesterday.

The comments by WFP Executive Director James Morris followed an emergency appeal last week for US$171 million worth of rations to feed 6.5 million North Koreans, mostly women and children, plagued by years of hunger compounded by shock price reforms.

With the timing of a second round of six-way negotiations to curtail North Korea's nuclear arms program still uncertain, Chinese and US officials met in Beijing on Friday to discuss the way forward.

The WFP says it needs the US$171 million to offset a drop in contributions, which this year has already forced the WFP to cut off rations to several million North Koreans fed by the agency since the mid-1990s.

"We are about 60 percent resourced for this year," Morris told a news conference in Beijing. "And that means in January we'll probably stop feeding about 3 million people."

He said a gift from Russia would help sustain the food pipeline for about a month, but, without additional support, the number of North Koreans affected would rise to "something in the neighborhood of 3.8 million people" from February.

North Korea has suffered food shortages since at least 1995, when it first appealed for aid after floods compounded years of economic mismanagement and the loss of its main patron, the Soviet Union.

Since last year, donor fatigue has been exacerbated by North Korea's political isolation over its attempts to build nuclear weapons, and by US suspicions that food aid is diverted away from the needy to the country's military and political elite.

Food aid to North Korea from the US, which averaged 155,000 tonnes of food a year, dropped to 40,000 tonnes this year, Morris said.

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