U.N. launches another appeal for North Korea


United Nations’ aid agencies appealed Wednesday for US$68 million in aid to help prevent famine in North Korea and stem dramatic declines in the country’s agriculture, water and health facilities.

The U.N. appeal, the sixth since chronic food shortages struck North Korea in 1995, demonstrated that Pyongyang remains dependent on foreign aid despite its recent efforts to break out of diplomatic isolation and improve relations with rival South Korea.

“Recent improvements in the political climate have not yet had a significant impact on the humanitarian situation, which is still critical,” U.N. aid agencies said in their joint appeal.

The appeal called for US$68 million to boost agricultural production, repair schools, control diseases and provide drugs and clean up water supplies and sanitation.

The World Food Program also was to launch a separate appeal later Tuesday in Stockholm for food aid. That appeal was expected to surpass the US$106 million the WFP asked for this year to feed 7 million of North Korea’s 22.5 million people.

North Korea harvested 2.92 million tons of grain this year but needs 4.78 million tons. The gap of 1.8 million tons is 500,000 tons bigger than this year’s food deficit, said Oliver Lacey-Hall, a U.N. aid official.

North Korea has struggled since the collapse of the Soviet Union deprived it of Eastern bloc allies and trading partners, cutting off Pyongyang’s access to vital materials such as fertilizer and tractor fuel.

Droughts, floods and tidal waves since 1995 caused famines that killed hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people and pushed North Korea’s ailing economy and collective agricultural system toward collapse. Hospitals, with few supplies and little electricity, have struggled to care for the sick.

This year’s grain harvest was less than at the famine’s height in 1997 and was hurt by drought and typhoons, shortages of fertilizer and fuel and dilapidated agricultural machinery, aid officials said.

They said food aid needed to be coordinated with improvements to water, sanitation and health facilities. Most people use unsanitary latrines and water supplies are contaminated.

“The food crisis is not the only cause of poor health of the population,” said Lacey Hall.