Wednesday, 3 September 2008

U.N. says North Korea needs millions in food aid (IHT)

BEIJING: North Korea needs $503 million (281 million pounds) in food aid between now and November 2009 to avoid famine, which could be hampered by China's unwillingness to grant food export licences, the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) said on Tuesday.
Tony Banbury, the WFP's regional director for Asia who has just spent a week in the reclusive country, said North Korea risked sliding back into famine if it did not get help now, with people 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. The operation will have a huge impact in preventing a worsening of the situation," he told a news conference in Beijing, referring to their new aid appeal.
North Korea, with a population of about 23 million, lost around 1 million people in a famine in the mid to late 1990s brought about by a mismanaged farm sector and floods.
Even with a good harvest, North Korea falls about 1 million tonnes, or 20 percent, short of its grain needs and relies heavily on aid from China, South Korea and United Nations agencies.
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said in late March it expects North Korea to have a shortfall of about 1.66 million tonnes in cereals for the year ending in October 2008, the largest deficit in about seven years.
The WFP warned in July that North Korea was experiencing its worst levels of hunger in nearly a decade.
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 licences for grains and flour in order to control domestic inflation.
"China's priority is feeding its own population," said Anthea Webb, the WFP's China director. "We acknowledge that they already send bilateral food aid from China to North Korea, and we appreciate that, but our own operation there has a tremendous need."
She added that the WFP had spoken to Chinese officials about the problem, and "they are considering it".

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