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North Korea Needs More Food Donations, UN Says

The United Nations World Food Program says North Korea will run out of food aid this summer unless more donations are made. The shortfall this year is partly due to a decrease in Japanese contributions.

The Asian director for the U.N. World Food Program, John Powell, is calling for 368,000 tons of emergency food aid for North Korea.

Mr. Powell made his appeal at a news conference in Beijing Wednesday, after a two-week visit to North Korea. He says the shortage in WFP aid has increased the risk of malnutrition for more than six million of the country's most vulnerable people children, pregnant women, and the elderly. "Without further contributions, we will run out of food in July, August. It takes about two to four months to translate a pledge from a donor into food in the stomach of a child in North Korea. This means that the people to whom WFP food is directed overwhelmingly women and children are looking down the barrel of a food crisis," Mr. Powell said.

The WFP has received only a quarter of its food requirements for North Korea for this year. Only the United States and South Korea have promised aid so far.

Mr. Powell did not give a reason for the shortfall. He rejected the suggestion that donor countries have diverted aid from North Korea to countries such as Afghanistan. But he confirmed that contributions from Japan a traditionally generous donor have fallen. Last year, Japan was North Korea's largest aid donor. "Since July 1999, we'll find that Japan has provided more than 600,000 tons of food to DPR Korea. I suppose it's no more a secret to you than it is to me that the economy in Japan is going through some difficult times. But we are still hopeful that the Japanese will contribute to this operation this calendar year," Mr. Powell said. Mr. Powell says two-thirds of North Korea's people receive just 300 grams of grain a day from the government. He says that is far less than they would receive at a typical refugee camp.

The WFP has provided food to North Korea for the past seven years. Aid agencies say hundreds of thousands of North Koreans have died of famine-related illnesses since the mid-1990's.