01 July 2009

Millions starving in North Korea - UN

Starving ... an emaciated brother and sister lie prone at a kindergarten
in South Pyongyang. Picture: World Food Program

* Children facing "critical" food shortage
* Nuclear standoff slowing donations
* Nine million require food aid

From correspondents in Beijing, China (News.com)

NORTH Koreans, especially children, are facing a "critical" food situation as donations have dried up amid the country's nuclear standoff with the world, the UN's food aid agency said today.

Torben Due, the World Food Programme's country representative in North Korea, said Pyongyang had told the agency to scale back its operations in the impoverished country, without giving clear reasons.

"It is a very serious problem for the population in (North Korea) as they do not have enough to eat,'' Mr Due said.

He said the WFP, which launched an emergency operation in North Korea late last year amid a deteriorating food outlook, has had to pare back its goal of reaching 6.2m of the hungry, and is now targeting just 2.27m.

"For adults, it doesn't mean a lot if you live for a few months on a diet of cereals and vegetables, but for children, it is critical,'' he said.

"We see an increase in the number of children being admitted to hospitals with severe malnutrition,'' he added, while stressing that observation was based on anecdotal evidence and could not yet be quantified or verified.

Due said a study by the WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organisation last year estimated nearly nine million North Koreans - more than a third of the country's 24 million people - require food aid.

A long-running international standoff over North Korea's nuclear programmes escalated on May 25 when Pyongyang carried out its second nuclear test, followed by further missile launches, which resulted in new UN sanctions.