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N.K. needs 200,000 tons of food aid to prevent mass starvation: aid group

All Headlines 17:15 May 26, 2008

By Shim Sun-ah

SEOUL, May 26 (Yonhap) -- Mass starvation is likely in North Korea within two months, an aid group here said Monday, asking South Korea to send at least 200,000 tons of food in emergency aid to help the communist state avert a spreading food crisis.

The 200,000 tons are the bare minimum with which the people can subsist before the first shipment of U.S. food aid arrives in the impoverished country, said Good Friends, a Seoul-based Buddhist group working to help North Koreans.

North Korea faces a shortage of 600,000 tons in June and July, it added.

The United States decided this month to provide 500,000 tons of food aid over the coming year, with the conservative South Korean government hesitating to send free aid to its famine-stricken neighbor.

South Korea was a major donor country in recent years, providing about 400,000 tons of rice aid to the famine-stricken country. North Korea did not request South Korea's help this year due to the two countries' soured relations, which worsened with the launch of the new conservative South Korean government.

The government has said it may consider providing aid if the food shortage in the North is confirmed to be serious, but claims that the current situation is not serious enough.

"The pace of deaths from starvation is increasing rapidly. The North Korean government is deceiving (the outside world) about the deaths without disclosing its food shortage and making requests for foreign aid," Rev. Pomnyun told reporters in Seoul. "The South Korean government says the North is in no serious situation."

He said North Korea harvested 2.5 million tons of grain last year, about 300,000 tons less than the group has estimated earlier.

In comparison, the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization estimated that the North harvested about 3 million tons of grain last year and thus its shortfall for this year is estimated at about 1.66 million tons. The South Korean government put the estimated crop production at about 4 million tons and shortage at 1 million to 1.1 million tons.

Pomnyun said the U.S. food donation cannot effectively prevent the imminent food crisis in North Korea and no country can send food aid to North Korea as quickly as South Korea because of its location.

He said the current food situation in North Korea is comparable to that of the spring of 1996, the first year of the worst food shortage that hit the country in the late 1990s, or even more serious.

About 3 million people are believed to have died of hunger in the communist country during the period dubbed by North Koreans "an arduous march."

The latest food crisis began in the North's granaries of Hwanghae provinces and farmers who are not covered by state food rations are the most susceptible to the crisis, the activist said.

Most crops were damaged in flooding that hit the provinces last year but the military collected the usual amount of rice for reserve, he said.

"The food shortage that began in the Hwanghae provinces is spreading to other regions except for Pyongyang," he claimed.

"Isn't it a neglect of duty if the government has yet to grasp this widespread information on starvation-caused deaths as it spends much money to collect information? If it has hidden this information, then what is justice in South Korea? We want to ask if letting people die befits its ruling ideology," the activist said.

Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyoun said, however, the ministry has received no reports of massive deaths from starvation, but is closely watching the development of situations.


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