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North Korea Needs a Half Billion in Food Aid, Says UN

Sept. 2, 2008 (EIRNS)—The UN World Food Programme (WFP) said on Tuesday that North Korea needs $503 million in food aid between now and November 2009 to avoid famine. Tony Banbury, the WFP's regional director for Asia, who has just spent a week in the country, said peple in North Korea are already resorting to foraging to sustain themselves.

"We don't believe it's a famine. We are intent on making sure it doesn't turn into one."

Western estimates are that North Korea lost as many as a million people to famine in the mid to late 1990s due to floods and a poorly managed farm program. Even in good years, North Korea is only about 80% self-sufficent in food and relied on aid from China, South Korea, and United Nations agencies.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said in late March that it expects North Korea to have a shortfall of about 1.66 million tons of cereals for the year ending in October, the largest deficit in about seven years. Extremely high global food prices are also making it harder for North Korea to buy food on the international market, as are China's restrictions on export licenses for grains and flour, imposed in order to control its domestic inflation and to feed its own population.

South Korea has not delivered direct shipments of rice because of its squabbling with the North, but Japan and North Korea have just reach an agreement on investigating the history of the North Korean kidnap program of the 1970s that may facilitate Japanese aid going to the North.

The WFP's Banbury said he hoped donors would put politics to one side. North Korea was being much more open than in the past, in a measure of the seriousness of the situation, granting unprecedented access to monitor deliveries, he added.