U.N. food program makes urgent appeal to help starving North Koreans

Sunday, February 10th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ The U.N. World Food Program said it has received only a fraction of the aid needed to help feed starving North Korea, where at least 2 million young children may die of hunger.

The WFP has received just 10 percent of the $216 million it needs to provide about 611,200 tons of food to North Korea.

``Further contributions, especially for sugar and cereals are urgently required to ensure continued food assistance to the most vulnerable populations for April and onwards,'' a WFP report issued Friday said.

The WFP plans to make up about half of a projected shortfall of 1.47 million tons of grain for the year. The North Korean government will have to obtain the other half, either through donations or foreign purchases.

The WFP said the overall shortage risks the lives of more than 2 million children under age 5 through malnutrition and disease.

Friday's report also warned of a poor harvest this year because a lack of snowfall may parch soils and lead to lower water levels later.

John Powell, regional director of the WFP's Asia Bureau, said in November that the agency's aid campaigns for North Korea since 1995 all have been successful, with donations covering 95 percent of the objectives.

Despite improved harvest yields the past couple of years, food shortages still are widespread in North Korea, making foreign aid crucial, WFP and South Korean officials say.

North Korea says 220,000 people died of hunger or hunger-related diseases between 1995 and 1998. A U.S. congressional team says the total could be 2 million.

On Saturday, North Korean defectors told the International Conference on North Korean Human Rights and Refugees in Tokyo that bodies of starvation victims have been seen floating in rivers.