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Tuesday, 21 August, 2001, 11:37 GMT 12:37 UK
N Korea faces desperate future
Child in Nampo hospital
Food was the main medicine in Nampo's hospital
North Korea may never be self-sufficient in food, according to the head of the United Nation's World Food Programme.

WFP executive director Catherine Bertini said even with improved harvests and good weather, food aid will be needed to help fight hunger for years to come.

WFP in N Korea
Provided aid since 1996
Now reaches 7.6 million - one-third of the population
Main donors are Japan, South Korea and the US
Close to fulfilling this year's record appeal for 810,000 tons of aid
Speaking on her return from a visit to North Korea, Mrs Bertini highlighted the plight of starving children in a city hospital where the most effective medicine was food.

The WFP has been feeding about eight million North Koreans since the country's food crisis began in 1996 - about six million are children aged from six months to 16 years.

A long drought from March to June, followed by flooding in some areas, has hit this year's harvest

Starving children

Mrs Bertini said 140 children in the port city of Nampo had been without their rice-milk blend nutrition for days because of a breakdown in local transportation.

Reclaiming salt plain at Nampo
Workers who help repair the infrastructure get WFP food aid
"The children were very lethargic," she said. "Many were crying, if they had the energy to cry."

But there were signs of improvement, Mrs Bertini said, in a nearby city orphanage where almost all of the 180 infants had looked healthy.

"It was a stark difference from the children we saw in 1997," she said.

No short-term answer

Mrs Bertini said there was "no crime" in not being self-sufficient in food but that North Korea would have to improve its economy drastically instead to be able to afford to buy food from abroad.

"That in the short term, however, will not be the case, and for the foreseeable future - at least for the next few years - even with improved harvests, even with good weather, there will be a need for food aid," she said.

Aid agencies estimate that up to two million people have died in North Korea since the mid-1990s as a result of acute food shortages.

North Korea has reached out to the world since a historic summit in June 2000 between the leaders of the two Koreas, but foreign access to the country is still tightly controlled.

Catherine Bertini, head of the World Food Programme
"The country is dependent on international aid"
See also:

16 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
North Korean defections up
09 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
N Koreans 'starving to death'
03 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
Karaoke in North Korean aid shipment
28 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
Picture gallery: Secret city
28 Oct 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
Life in Pyongyang
30 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
Where famine stalks the land
15 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Korea: No going back
09 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
North Korea: A political history
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