(ATTN: ADDS more details in paras 6, 9-11)
SEOUL, May 14 (Yonhap) -- South Korea is pushing to send food assistance to North Korea no later than September to help ease worsening food shortages in the impoverished state, a unification ministry official said Tuesday.
Seoul is drawing up plans to provide food aid as the North is suffering food shortages apparently aggravated by global sanctions and years of unfavorable weather conditions. The government has launched efforts to collect public opinions before determining when, how and what kind of help it will send to the North.
"A recent WFP report showed that the May-September period ahead of the start of the harvest season will be a period that needs assistance," a unification ministry official told reporters on condition of anonymity. "I think we also need to take that period (as a period that needs assistance)."
He was referring to a recent report jointly compiled by the World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization in which those organizations estimated that North Korea's crop output last year hit the lowest level since 2008 and that around 10 million people in North Korea, 40 percent of the population, are in urgent need of food.
The report projected that the food situation in North Korea could deteriorate during the "lean season from May to September, if no proper and urgent humanitarian actions are taken."
On Monday, WFP Executive Director David Beasley expressed serious concerns over the North's food shortages and urged more donations to help it during his trip to Seoul.
South Korea hopes that food aid will help alleviate the situation in the North and keep the stalled negotiating process with Pyongyang alive, despite the North's recent projectile launches.
Seoul has said all options are on the table in providing food aid to the North, including provisions issued directly by the government and through international agencies.
As part of his efforts to listen to public opinions with regard to the government's food aid plans, Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul met a group of civic and religious leaders on Tuesday.
During the meeting, civic groups called for active support from the government for their efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to North Korea and for close cooperation between the state and private entities in providing aid to the impoverished nation.
"It would be good if the government could provide assistance on a large scale to North Korea in a swift fashion, but if that's not the case, we need to find other ways in cooperation with the government and civic entities," Kim Hong-gul, head of the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation, said during a press conference in Seoul.
South Korea last provided food assistance to North Korea in 2010 to help it cope with flood damage. Seoul delivered 5,000 tons of rice to Pyongyang at the time.
North Korea appears to be facing gloomy harvests this year as its media recently highlighted growing concerns over drought this year.
The Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the communist state, called for all-out efforts on Tuesday to come up with "revolutionary" measures to fight drought, saying that "water is needed now more than ever."
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