DPRK

Famine hitting even harder in North Korea

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SEOUL (AP) -- Famine is biting ever harder into North Korea, with children and the elderly especially threatened and the government reducing food rations still further.

Aid experts say North Korea will need substantial food aid again next year, and possibly for much longer.

South Korean officials said Thursday that North Korea's food crisis won't ease unless the Communist country fundamentally changes its economic policies. They said massive floods the past two years merely aggravated a chronic problem.

"The North's current food crisis is man-made, not owing to a natural disaster," said Kim Young-hoon, a government researcher in Seoul.

Kim, who monitors North Korea's agriculture, said international aid will help stave off immediate starvation. But he said it would be "like pouring water into a bottomless cask" unless the North overhauls its inefficient farming methods.

After floods destroyed thousands of hectares of North Korean farmland last year, the reclusive country sought international help for the first time to feed its 24 million people. More flooding this summer worsened the problem.

But South Korean officials say even before the floods, North Korea's collective farms weren't producing enough food. Since 1990, the North produced only four million tonnes of grain a year, two million tonnes short of its needs.

Experts say North Korea's crops were hurt by terraced farms, made on slopes of hills throughout the country. Topsoil washed downhill by rains buried vast rice paddies below.

UN officials operating out of North Korea reported that much of the flood-stricken farmland remains buried because the country has no fuel to run bulldozers and other heavy equipment.

Although this summer's floods were not as severe as last year's, North Korea's crop harvest this fall is expected to be no better than 1995.

The Rome-based UN World Food Program said Wednesday the North will need foreign food aid again in 1997. For some months, the agency has received reports of malnourished children and elderly people foraging for food.

Kim Hyong-ki, a senior official in South Korea's Unification Ministry, reported to Parliament this week that the North needs 4.9 million tonnes of food to maintain the minimum acceptable ration this year, but harvested only 3.4 million tonnes last fall. Commercial imports or donated food provided 900,000 tonnes, leaving a deficit of about 600,000 tonnes.

As a result, UN agencies say North Korea has reduced food rations to less than half of what is considered an acceptable minimum and introduced potatoes to the country's rice-based diet.

Still, food rations have been cut for many adults to only 198 grams a day of cereal as the North diverted dwindling food stock
to feed children suffering malnutrition and rickets, the agencies said.

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