06/16/2005, 00.00
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North Korea facing its worst food crisis ever

Pyongyang (AsiaNews/Agencies) – North Korea is facing its worst food crisis in many years. The situation is "very much a crisis already . . . of much bigger proportions than we have had in recent years," said Gerald Bourke, spokesman for the UN's World Food Programme.

For international experts, cuts in food rations by "Dear leader" Kim Jong-il's regime, disastrous economic reforms and the nuclear crisis have led to an appalling food shortfall.

Pyongyang's refusal to return to the six-nation talks brought about the suspension of US and Japanese humanitarian aid.

South Korea resumed food shipments as part of its "silent diplomacy" after a three-month suspension, but sent smaller quantities.

Economic reforms introduced by the Communist regime compounded an already bad situation. Hopes to make the country self-sufficient in agriculture have not materialised.

"North Korea is not an agrarian country," said Kathi Zelleweger, a frequent visitor to the country with aid organisation Caritas.

"It is mostly rugged mountain terrain, and only about 18 per cent is arable," she explained. "It is dependent on fertilizer and machinery to make that land productive, both of which are expensive."

Economic reforms, instituted in 2002, have sent prices and social tensions soaring. Only the elites—government officials, senior managers of state enterprises, security forces, and the leadership of the army—are able to pay.

The urban diet in North Korea is now 300g in the cities; 250g in rural areas.

Even though a popular uprising is not imminent, Bourke is concerned that further reductions would spell disaster.

"North Koreans are very tough people," he said. "They are very accustomed to deprivation. But that doesn't take away the urgent need for food aid".

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