Sat, Feb 23, 2019 - Page 5 News List

North Korea announces food crisis ahead of talks

MESSAGING?An expert said that last year’s harvest was bad, but there were no signs of an emergency, while a Red Cross official reported a 45% output drop in some regions

Reuters, UNITED NATIONS

Visitors use mobile phones to record video of a chef preparing a dish during North Korea’s national cooking competition in Pyongyang on Wednesday last week. About 300 cooks competed in 40 different dishes over three days, with the winners receiving cookbooks and equipment, as well as diplomas and medals.

Photo: AFP

North Korea has warned that it is facing a food shortfall of about 1.4 million tonnes this year and has been forced to almost halve rations, blaming high temperatures, drought, floods and UN sanctions in a memo seen by reporters on Thursday.

The release of the undated two-page memo by the North Korean Permanent Mission to the UN in New York comes ahead of a second summit on Wednesday and Thursday between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Washington has been demanding that North Korea give up a nuclear weapons program that threatens the US, while North Korea has been seeking a lifting of punishing sanctions, a formal end to the 1950-1953 Korean War and security guarantees.

The 15-member UN Security Council has unanimously boosted sanctions on North Korea since 2006 in a bid to choke off funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

“The DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] government calls on international organizations to urgently respond to addressing the food situation,” read the North Korean memo, which the mission described as a follow-up to a joint assessment with the UN World Food Programme between Nov. 26 and Dec. 7 last year.

The UN agency declined to comment.

The memo said that North Korea’s food production last year was 4.951 million tonnes, down 503,000 tonnes from 2017.

The UN confirmed these figures as official government data provided at the end of last month and said that North Korea’s food production included rice, wheat, potatoes and soybeans.

North Korea said it would import 200,000 tonnes of food and produce about 400,000 tons of early crops, but would still be left with a gap and from last month would cut daily rations to 300 grams per person from 550 grams.

UN officials and aid groups in North Korea were consulting the government to “further understand the impact of the food security situation on the most vulnerable people in order to take early action to address their humanitarian needs,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Thursday.

The UN and aid groups were only able to help one-third of 6 million people estimated to be in need last year, due to a lack of funding, Dujarric said, adding that a UN appeal for US$111 million was only one-quarter funded.

The UN estimates that a total of 10.3 million people — almost half the North’s population — are in need and about 41 percent of North Koreans are undernourished, he said.

Along with extreme weather, the North Korean memo also blames UN sanctions for restricting the delivery of farming materials and hindering fuel supply for the agricultural sector.

US Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun earlier this month said that the US had eased rules on humanitarian assistance to North Korea and was working to clear a backlog of UN approvals.

Benjamin Silberstein, coeditor of North Korean Economy Watch and an associate scholar at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, said that the harvest was bad, but there was no sign of an emergency.

“Of course it’s at least partially about the sanctions,” Silberstein said.

“Just look at the way the letter is worded. They want to make it sound like sanctions equals starvation so the US should really be benevolent and give them up,” he said.

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