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Interview with Khaled Mansour - 2002-10-02


To add insight into the food shortage problem in North Korea, Newsline host David Borgida interviewed Khaled Mansour, a U.S.-based public affairs officer for the United Nations World Food Programme.

MR. BORGIDA
Joining us live from VOA's New York Bureau, Khaled Mansour, of the World Food Program. It is the frontline agency in the fight against global hunger. In 2001, for example, the WFP fed more than 77 million people in 82 countries. Mr. Mansour, thanks so much for joining us today.

MR. MANSOUR
Thank you.

MR. BORGIDA
The problem in North Korea has been publicized for quite some time, and you have obviously been addressing this situation for all that time as well. Tell us a little bit about what you are confronting and how bad the situation is now, Mr. Mansour.

MR. MANSOUR
I think we are confronting a tragedy in North Korea. As Rick said, my colleague in Pyongyang, that 3 million people, that is half the people we are feeding in North Korea, will be cut loose. And let me make it more complete, those people are children in primary schools, 1 million of them; half a million children in kindergarten; we are talking about pregnant women; we are talking about elderly people, disabled people. So it is a tragedy for us, especially that it is coming in the winter. And all we are talking about to sustain our programs until January is only 100,000 tons of food. Or, to put it in dollar terms, it is about $44 million.

MR. BORGIDA
Mr. Mansour, you mentioned the plight of children in North Korea, and I think government statistics show that about 45 percent of children 5 and under are severely malnourished in that country. It does tug at your heartstrings, as an adult trying to deal with this. Can't anything be done for them in particular?

MR. MANSOUR
I think what people also need to understand is that some of these processes are irreversible. Once a child is malnourished for some time, the child becomes stunted. He will not grow to attain his mental or physical prime even if you try to feed him later on. I think the only thing that we need to do now is for donors, again, for the international community, and for neighboring countries to North Korea, to come forward and make up for the shortage that we are having in North Korea.

MR. BORGIDA
Mr. Mansour, I realize you are not a politician, but politics playssome role, of course, in everything that is going on in North Korea, so I would like you to take a stab at answering this question. And that is that North Korea has obviously been trying to pull out of its isolationism in recent weeks and months. It has reached out to Japan and the South, and obviously the U.S. envoy will be there later this week. If politics is the government there, improving its stance toward being more receptive to international food aid or is it very much the status quo at this point?

MR. MANSOUR
I think over the past few years, and the World Food Program started working in North Korea in 1995, there have been many developments in the country. Firstly, we can visit more sites. We can monitor more food distribution. There has been more dialogue between North Korea and other countries. And what we have always tried to do is to tell all the donors and North Korea that we need to separate politics from the issues of food and hunger. Because the people who will die will not help either side, the people who will die because of starvation. But again, positive political developments are helpful. What I need to point out here is that countries like the United States have always made the distinction between humanitarian assistance and the political situation. And that is why, for North Korea, the U.S. has kept a steady level of funding for the past few years.

MR. BORGIDA
You mentioned politics, as I did in my question, but at this point around the world there is no more political and diplomatic sensitive point than Afghanistan, which itself is suffering from famine and hunger issues. I know that North Korea has been the focus of our interview, but if you would,[tell us] the extent of the problem in Afghanistan, Mr. Mansour.

MR. MANSOUR
I think they are linked because, in Afghanistan as well as in Southern Africa and many other places, there is a pressure, what you may call donor fatigue, because of various demands on donors' budgets. But I think Afghanistan is a very crucial test for the international community. The international community have let down Afghanistan in the early nineties, after the Soviet withdrawal. And I think many people in Afghanistan now are starting to become more frustrated because of the slow pace of donor funding for Afghanistan. They have not received what the donor community has promised earlier in the year, and specifically for infrastructure and development projects. As far as humanitarian and emergency needs, I think the donors have been generous with us. Again, the U.S. is leading the donors in providing for the World Food Program. But, again, we have 100,000 tons short of the needs to carry the people until the next harvest in Afghanistan.

MR. BORGIDA
The views of Khaled Mansour, of the World Food Program, detailing for us in what can only be described as disturbing terms the extent of the food problem in both Afghanistan and North Korea. Mr. Mansour, thanks so much for being our guest today.

MR. MANSOUR
Thank you.

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