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Sunday, June 14, 1998 Published at 17:16 GMT 18:16 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Korea food crisis deepens

Aid has so far concentrated on children and the vulnerable

North Koreans are increasingly at risk from disease as a result of food shortages, according to the United Nations.

BBC correspondent Duncan Hewitt reports from Beijing: "Natural disaster and economic collapse"
UN officials say 2m tonnes of food - more than twice as much as has been promised - is needed.

The United Nations World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organisation says aid already sent to North Korea has been targeted at the young and vulnerable.

But they warn that ordinary North Koreans are becoming malnourished and susceptible to disease.

[ image: Food has run out in many areas]
Food has run out in many areas
In many areas people have received no food rations since mid-March, while those who do get international relief supplies are living on reduced rations of 100 grammes of rice or maize.

Douglas Coutts, the top UN official in North Korea, said the meagre rations filled stomachs but left people vulnerable to disease.

He said no one was dying of starvation in the streets but pneumonia and diarrhoea were claiming lives.

UN official Douglas Coutts speaks to the BBC World Service's Newshour: "Entire population suffering"
The failure of North Korea's centrally planned economy, made worse by three years of natural disasters, has brought the country to the brink of famine.

UN officials returning from a fact-finding trip to North Korea say the next two months will be critical as food stocks are nearly exhausted.

Donor countries are being asked to boost their aid contributions to meet a considerable short-term food deficit.

The UN is hoping North Korea's government will lift access restrictions placed on large tracts of the country so it can carry out nutritional studies on the people.

A BBC correspondent says that without access it could prove difficult to persuade donor countries to provide extra help.

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