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N Korea at brink of humanitarian crisis

india Updated: Oct 08, 2011 00:01 IST
Tania Branigan
Tania Branigan
Hindustan Times
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Footage of malnourished North Korean orphans and official warnings over failed harvests have given a rare glimpse at the scale of devastating food shortages in the country following a harsh winter and widespread flooding.

The World Food Programme has warned it has only 30% of the funding it needs for its relief operation, which targets 3.5 million of North Korea’s most vulnerable citizens. It estimated in March that a quarter of the country’s 24 million inhabitants needed food aid and that a third of children were chronically malnourished.

North Korea has struggled with its food supply since the crippling famine of the 90s, and its biggest donors — South Korea and the US — have yet to decide whether to resume aid suspended in 2008, while rising global commodity prices have exacerbated its problems.

On Thursday South Korea’s unification minister, Yu Woo-ik, told parliament: “I don’t think (the food situation) is very
serious.”

Some suspect that Pyongyang may be hoarding crops to ensure there is plenty of food next year. The North has pledged that 2012 — the centenary of founder Kim Il-sung’s birth — will be the year it becomes a major power.

The Reuters AlertNet humanitarian news service, which shot the new video, was allowed to make a tightly controlled trip to South Hwanghae, a farming province in the country’s arable heartland.

The team reported signs of severe malnutrition in children and medical staff said they lacked the drugs they needed.

Kim Chol-jun, paediatrician at a school for orphans, said heavy rainfall and flooding had also contaminated water supplies, leading to digestive diseases.