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World Food Program Calls on Asian Countries to Boost Contributions - 2003-06-27


The United Nations World Food Program is asking Asian countries to boost contributions to global food programs.

The U.N. World Food Program's executive director James Morris says South East Asia has the economic potential to produce the largest number of "emerging donors" to the U.N. food agency.

Vietnam recently graduated from the WFP assistance program, while India made its first contribution of 40,000 tons of wheat to Afghanistan. Thailand and China are already donors in the WFP.

But Mr. Morris says this year the program will help some 109 million people globally, but North Korea is the most difficult place for the U.N. assistance program.

"We're feeding 6.4 million people in North Korea, four million women and children," he said. "[But] the politics of North Korea are very challenging. It's one of the most difficult places in the world for us to work."

North Korea faced a severe crisis in the mid-1990s as the country's food output plunged after both floods and drought, with the world witnessing images of starving infants and reports of extreme poverty.

Mr. Morris says international support has succeeded in lowering - from 60 percent to 20 percent - the percentage of underweight children who are under the age of seven years old, improving the health of thousands of children who would have otherwise faced malnutrition.

Richard Corsino, the WFP's Pyongyang-based country director said there have been gains in recent years in overall food production, but shortages remain.

"By and large the situation is somewhat better this year than it has been, certainly during the flood and drought years of the mid-1990s," he said. "But there remains a very serious shortfall overall in the country."

North Korea annually falls short in grain supply by about one million tons.

Mr. Corsino says North Korea faces a constant struggle to produce sufficient food. Only 18 percent of the land is suitable for cultivation , and he says population growth and economic decline are making the shortages worse.