US Delegation Says
Famine Killed Up to
2 Million In North Korea
BEIJING (AP) -- Two million North Koreans -- nearly 10 per cent of the population -- may have died during three years of famine in North Korea, U.S. officials said today.
Video footage brought back from the secretive communist country by a congressional staff delegation showed sickly, emaciated children.
One young child too weak to sit up had to be propped up in the corner in an orphanage. Older children filmed during the delegation's weeklong visit appeared severely stunted by malnutrition.
To survive the persisting food shortages, North Koreans are eating weeds, grasses and corn stalks that are mashed into powder and sometimes mixed with flour to make noodles or cakes.
"The food shortage continues," said Mark Kirk, one of the bipartisan delegation's four members. "They are out of food. That's clear."
Over the past three years, the famine has killed an estimated 300,000 to 800,000 people a year, with the deaths peaking in 1997, Kirk said. He said the figures came from U.S. government sources, refugees and North Korean exiles.
"Two million would be the highest possible estimate," Kirk said.
Deaths were most likely from famine-related illnesses, like pneumonia, tuberculosis, and diarrhea, rather than starvation itself, he said.
The food shortages were precipitated by two years of flooding followed by a drought last year that pushed the reclusive Communist nation's inefficient collective farming system to the brink of collapse. The famine has left North Korea's 23 million people largely dependent on foreign aid.
Foreign food aid is clearly saving lives, and the international community is feeding nearly every child under the age of seven, the delegation said.
The United States -- which fought North Korea in the 1950-53 Korean War and remains a staunch supporter of capitalist South Korea -- is now North Korea's largest donor, contributing 220 million tonnes of food aid.
This year's crops look better than last year's, but North Korea will still lack food after the harvest, the delegation said. Nor has the government of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il implemented any significant reforms to reverse the country's economic decline, it added.
Preparations for Kim's expected presidential inauguration on Sept. 9 were almost non-stop, Brookes said, adding that children were practicing for the inauguration ceremonies until 11 p.m. one night.