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Wednesday, 10 April, 2002, 14:19 GMT 15:19 UK
North Korea faces 'looming' food crisis
North Korean school children eat foods supplied by the UN World Food Programme.
About one-third of North Koreans receive food aid
Famine-hit North Korea will run out of food in three month's time unless more international donations arrive immediately, the United Nations food agency has warned.

Food aid has already run out in several provinces, the UN's World Food Programme said.

North Koreans work at the UN World Food Programme
The WFP sets up food-for-work projects
It said North Korean women and children were "looking down the barrel" of a food crisis, as donor pledges take at least two months to translate into food.

The new warning came amid a flurry of diplomatic activity aimed at improving relations with South Korea and the US.

Last week the two Koreas agreed to resume contacts following an ice-breaking trip to the North by South Korean presidential envoy Lim Dong-won.

North Korea also hinted it was ready to resume a dialogue with the US, suspended since President George W Bush instigated a harder-line approach to relations.

President in hospital

A US special envoy on Korean affairs, Charles Pritchard, is due to visit Seoul on Thursday in the latest attempt to revive diplomacy. It follows a similar trip by a former US envoy to South Korea, Donald Gregg, who has also made an informal trip to the North.

Meanwhile South Korean President Kim Dae-jung has been taken to hospital, suffering from fatigue, stomach problems and a strained thigh muscle.

A presidential spokeswoman said the 76-year-old had been told to cancel engagements for two days.


Mr Kim's policy has been to engage with the North, and part of that policy has been to provide food aid. In December it pledged 100,000 tonnes of aid following a WFP appeal.

But the international community as a whole has only pledged half of the 600,000 tonnes of food aid requested, said the WFP's Asia bureau chief John Powell.

"Without further contributions, we will run out of food in July or August," he said.

The United Nations estimates that about one-third of North Koreans receive food aid and more than half of the population is malnourished.

The Stalinist nation has relied on food aid since a massive famine and natural disasters in 1995 caused the collapse of the state-planned economy.

See also:

09 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
Allies welcome N Korea accord
05 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
Korean exchange prompts talk of progress
04 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
S Koreans told to stop wasting food
10 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
Severe drought threatens Koreas
03 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
US grants N Korea nuclear funds
28 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
N Korea pressed to resume dialogue
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