Food From North Korea's
Autumn Harvest Running Out
UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- North Korea's autumn harvest will be used up by April and after that the famine-stricken country will have to rely primarily on international food aid, the World Food Program said Tuesday.
During the lean period until the next harvest in October, North Koreans will be forced to eat more wild mushrooms, tree bark, seaweed and cakes made of grass, said WFP spokeswoman Abby Spring.
"These can placate hunger but they are not nutritious and can cause illness," she said.
In the autumn harvest, there was a severe shortage of rice in the communist state because only 10 percent of rice fields were cultivated due to a lack of fuel and spare parts for machinery, Spring said.
Food shortages and famine-related illnesses have killed up to 2 million of North Korea's 23 million people during the past three years, according to U.S. congressional estimates. Two-thirds of all children under age 7 are malnourished, and lack of food has stunted the growth of millions more.
Two million children are receiving international food aid at schools, but the World Food Program said staff members have started recording increasing malnutrition especially among youngsters between the ages of 7 and 12.
"The food they're getting at school, they take home and it is shared with their family," Spring said. "This most likely explains why we are seeing this age group more and more in hospitals suffering from malnutrition."
To help alleviate the problem, WFP plans to start producing protein biscuits in North Korea that will be given to these children to eat in their classrooms, she said.
Last year, WFP received 660,000 tons of food, but the deliveries were mainly wheat and cereals -- not beans, vegetable oils and soya wheat, which are also important for famine victims.
For 1999, WFP said it needs about $225 million, or 588,000 tons of food.
To date, it has 358,000 tons of food worth $101.3 billion in the pipeline, mainly cereals from the United States, Spring said.
The U.N. agency plans to carry out food and crop assessments in the spring and fall "to better tailor the exact needs" of the North Korean people, she said.