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WFP Chief Says Aid Efforts to North Korea Lacking

North Koreans are shown drying crops outside their homes at a collective farm located about 20 kilometers from the center of Pyongyang, 23 Sep 2010

The head of the World Food Program says her agency is so short of aid for North Korea that it can not help more than 1.8 million undernourished children there. The United Nations organization is falling short of funds to feed hungry people in the impoverished and reclusive nation.

The World Food Program says it is only reaching one-quarter of the two-and-a-half million malnourished children in North Korea it desires to feed. And a recent U.N. report says the country is heading for a new food crisis, in part because of cuts in international aid at a time when North Korea is recovering from drought and floods.

The WFP's executive director, Josette Sheeran, said Thursday she is "deeply concerned" about the situation and wants the world to respond with more funds to provide 75,000 metric tons of food to North Korea.

Sheeran, when she was the managing editor of the Washington Times newspaper, in 1992 interviewed then-leader Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang.

She indicated it is unlikely she will meet the current leader, Kim Jong Il or his son, the heir apparent, Kim Jong Un, when she goes to North Korea later this week. "My trip is very short. But we seek to meet at the highest level that we can with the government. I will travel to one of our project sites in Pyongsan city," she said.

The WFP helps feed 671,000 people, mainly children, in seven North Korean provinces.

Sheeran goes first to China to meet officials there, and then goes to Pyongyang. She met earlier Thursday with South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman says Sheeran did not directly ask for aid for North Korea, taking into consideration "political sensitivities."

Seoul ended shipments of hundreds of thousands of tons of rice and fertilizer to the North in 2008 as relations deteriorated between the two Koreas.

The first official aid since President Lee Myung Bak took office nearly three years ago went to the North this week. The 5,000 tons of rice is the first portion of $12 million dollars worth of flood relief from Seoul.

North Korea is demanding huge shipments of rice and fertilizer before it will allow regular reunions of families separated since the Korean War of the early 1950's.

South Korea's Unification Minister told lawmakers Thursday that will not happen until North Korea "speeds up in earnest" its efforts to end its nuclear weapons programs.

Famine in North Korea in the 1990s is believed to have led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.

The United Nations Children's Fund says 40,000 North Korean children under the age of five become "acutely malnourished" every year.