DPR Korea: Famished and ill, children suffer most in North's food crisis

Report
from JoongAng Daily
Published on 10 Jan 2003
by Lee Dong-hyun
The U.S. government repeated that it would not cut off or reduce food aid to North Korea for "political reasons," as tension between Washington and Pyeongyang grew over the North's nuclear program. The announcement was largely taken as an attempt to separate the nuclear issue from humanitarian aid to the North, out of consideration for the children, who are often hit the hardest by food shortages there.

Reports by international aid agencies forecast continued food shortages in the North, although not approaching the levels of the worst years, from 1995 to 1997. The executive director of the World Food Program, James Morris, said after his visit to the North in November that about 4 million North Korean children could die of starvation this year. The organization's spokes-man, Gerald Bourke, reported that nearly all of the 25 students in a third-grade class at a primary school in Gimchaek, North Hamgyeong province, were eating mostly maize. Only three of them reported having eaten meat in the previous month, and the rest had eaten an egg and some vegetables on just one occasion during the month.

The World Food Program tried to address the situation by asking Tuesday for urgent donations. It asked for 80,000 tons of food for distribution to the areas suffering the most. The European Union said Wednesday that it would pay for 39,000 tons of food to be distributed primarily to children and pregnant women.

An official report by Pyeongyang in May 2000 said 45 percent of children 5 years old or younger suffered from chronic malnutrition. A survey by the World Food Program, the United Nations Children's Fund and the European Union conducted in September and October 1998 painted a similar picture throughout North Korea. Nearly two-thirds of the country's children aged between 6 months and 7 years old were reported to be suffering chronic malnutrition at the time. Sixteen percent of them suffered from dangerous degrees of malnutrition. One in three orphans, aged 12 to 24 months, suffered from acute malnutrition.

In June, North Korea had a bumper crop of row vegetables, wheat and barley, and raised daily food rations from 250 grams to 350 grams -- still far short of the World Health Organization's recommended 700 grams.

The situation has reportedly deteriorated following economic reform measures adopted in July. The changes practically ended rationing, making food that much harder to come by. The secretary-general of the Korean Welfare Foundation, Kim Hyoung-suk, said inflation in the North has skyrocketed since then, worsening the pain and suffering for children. Hundreds of thousands of people, including many children, are believed to be wandering the forests and coasts looking for food, Mr. Bourke of the World Food Program said.

Two-thirds of the North's one million children under age 5 are believed to be infected with respiratory diseases and 20 percent with intestinal ailments, said Medical Aid for Children of DPRK, a private organization here. These types of diseases have increased sharply since 1995 and their mortality rate is believed to be nearly 80 percent, according to at least one study.

Only about a third of North Korean infants younger than a year old received a full inoculation regime last year, the group said. Very few children brought into hospitals are given intravenous drips because little medicine is available.

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