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U.N. Addresses North Korean Food Aid Problem - 2002-10-02

The United Nations World Food Program, or WFP, says a severe shortage of grain donations is forcing it to cut back on food aid to millions of hungry North Koreans. The dwindling emergency food supplies come partly as a result of what international aid agencies are calling 'donor fatigue.' And with North Korea facing another harsh winter, a situation that was already bad seems about to get much worse.

Some three million people could be affected by the food shortage this year and another 1.5 million people may be affected next year according to Rick Corsino, director of the World Food Program in North Korea.

"People are very much on the edge, when it comes to food. And if we stop feeding the younger children those that are already in a weakened condition will become more weakened. If they are a bit malnourished they could become more severely malnourished in a very short period of time. And for pregnant women and women breast-feeding has other implications, they will be lower weight when they give birth, their children will be lower weight at birth, they won't have enough milk to feed after the birth."

Corsino told reporters this week that about a million nursery school children will lose their rations in November, and that any remaining aid will go to the most vulnerable, such as orphans and sick children.

"We're urgently appealing to our donors to continue their support to our programs in the country, and to do this immediately, and certainly with the generosity that they have shown in the past. And only in this way can we avoid a break in the most, really the most difficult time in the year which will be December, January, February, the height of the winter."

Corsino adds that even if more food aid were to arrive immediately, it would take at least two months to get it to the starving population. Food aid from two of the top three donor countries, the United States and South Korea, held steady this year. But Japan has not donated any food aid to North Korea this year because of strained bilateral relations.