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UN Warns North Korea Faces Major Food Crisis


United Nations aid agencies warn North Korea will be facing a major food crisis next spring unless donors support critically needed humanitarian assistance programs. They are appealing to donors to forget politics and think of the victims who need help. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

The U.N. Children's Fund says the outlook for North Korea is very grim. It says food production is down by 20 percent and multilateral and bilateral assistance covers only a fraction of the needs.

UNICEF spokesman, Michael Bociurkiw, urges donors to look beyond politics and renew their support for humanitarian programs.

"We are saying this because children represent the future hope of DPR Korea, yet they are the victims of ongoing political turmoil, which has seen a reduction in international assistance. Severe flooding during the summer in four provinces decimated internal food production," he said. "And, with far less food coming into the country because of the government's decision not to accept humanitarian aid, the impending shortages foretell a dire situation for people in North Korea, particularly women and children who are the most vulnerable."

Bociurkiw notes it is not easy to provide aid to people in North Korea because many areas in the country are off limits. He says UNICEF and other agencies are unable to monitor how funds are spent because they cannot go everywhere. He concedes this creates problems in appealing for money.

He says UNICEF has received only one half of its $11 million appeal. He says lack of money makes it very difficult for the agency to provide supplementary feeding programs for malnourished children. Nor can it carry out its education, health, water and sanitation activities.

The World Food Program says it too is short of cash. Spokesman Simon Pluess says WFP has received $15 million from its $100 million appeal. He says this is not enough to assist all of the nearly two million people in urban and rural areas that are in need of food aid.

"Right now, we can feed only about 700,000 people in 29 counties," he said. "But, actually what we would want to do is feed 1.9 million people in 50 of the most insecure counties."

The U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates North Korea will run a one million ton cereal deficit next year. Pluess says the shortage is likely to be higher than that because of the heavy flooding that occurred in July.