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WFP: North Korea Faces New Food Shortages

The World Food Program (WFP) says North Korea is facing new food shortages. WFP officials returning from Pyongyang say the North Korean government asked the U.N. agency to seek more food donations to prevent millions of people from going hungry. VOA's Luis Ramirez reports from Beijing.

WFP Asia director Anthony Banbury says the North Korean government is reporting a food supply shortage of one million tons this year. Banbury told reporters in Beijing that North Korean officials asked him to convey their request for more aid.

"If the donors do not respond to the request, millions of people are going to go hungry," he said. "The nutritional status of millions of people is going to worsen. Pregnant women will have bad birth outcomes. Infant mortality may indeed increase."

Banbury just finished a six-day visit to Pyongyang. He says North Korea's shortfall equals 20 percent of its food needs.

North Korea has had food shortages for years, due largely to natural disasters and mismanagement.

Officials this year blame a poor harvest and a drop in donations during 2006, when a number of nations cut aid because North Korea boycotted nuclear disarmament talks, fired test missiles, and conducted a nuclear test.

A preliminary nuclear disarmament accord reached last month allows for humanitarian aid to the North. However, implementation details are being worked out and Banbury says those who are going hungry in North Korea cannot wait until they are settled.

"We're asking donors to look at the situation in the country now; recognize how serious it is and provide assistance now," he said. "Because the needs of the people are separate from the political talks, there ought not to be a direct linkage between those talks and the food security situation in the country."

South Korea, which cut back its aid to the North last year, resumed it this week with a shipment on Tuesday of more than 6,000 tons of fertilizer.