Expert says North facing more famines

Joong Ang Daily (via AFP)

If floods and bad weather aggravate already chronic food shortages, North Korea may face new famines next year, a leading expert in Seoul warned yesterday.

Floods and storms, followed by outbreaks of blight and insect-related damage, deprived the impoverished nation of about 10 percent of its fall harvest this year, said Kwon Tae-Jin, research director of the Korea Rural Economic Institute.

“North Korea is likely to face very serious food shortages next year, and barring very generous help from abroad, we may see something like the 1995-98 famine,” Kwon told AFP.

That famine reportedly killed hundreds of thousands of people.

Kwon said North Korea needs at least 5.3 million tons of food to feed its 23 million people from now until next year’s harvest. But its own food production is expected to come to only 3.9 million ton, leaving a shortfall of 1.4 million.

South Korea is the North’s biggest aid provider, supplying it with 400,000 tons of food every year. Seoul is expected to increase this aid to 500,000 tons next year.

North Korea imports about 200,000 to 300,000 tons of food every year, but must rely on outside help to plug the remaining gap, Kwon said.

Paul Risley, Asia spokesman for the World Food Programme in Bangkok, said some food aid was sent directly to the North, including from China. Nonetheless, there is a significant gap between the amount of food available and the amount actually required, Risley told AFP, citing UN figures.

“This is a very serious concern, and it’s quite clear from the most recent estimate of food commodities that are available … that the DPRK [North Korea] will once again this year face a very significant gap between the amount of cereal, such as corn and rice, available and the amount of food required for its population,” he said.

He said the World Food Programme provides a “relatively small amount of food assistance” to millions of the most vulnerable, including several hundred thousand victims of August floods.

North Korea was already reliant on international aid to help make up a food shortfall of 1 million tons ― 20 percent of its needs ― even before the August rains.


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