Food Shortage in North Korea

'Beijing (May 23) -- A shortage of food in North Korea is worsening with some hungry residents of the hermit nation forced to eat roots for the first time since the 1950-53 Korean War, aid workers said on Thursday.

'The situation is deteriorating and that's very obvious because the lean period is from now up to the next harvest which is October,' aid worker Kathi Zellweger said in an interview.

'So we have very, very difficult months ahead of us,' said Zellweger, director of International Cooperation of the charity Caritas Hong Kong, who had returned from a one-week visit to North Korea.

'North Koreans had more food a few weeks ago than they had now, she said, adding the government was reducing rations as reserves were depleted in the run-up to the next harvest.

'So it is difficult,' she said.

'Rations are cut and cut and of course my question is how much more belt-tightening can they do until they have a catastrophe,' she said, warning that North Korea was moving towards crisis if no food came in.

'The food shortages could be the most acute since the Korean War, based on reports from North Korean families, said Trevor Page, the former United Nations World Food Programme representative in Pyongyang.

'Page, who left North Korea this week, said some families were now forced to eat roots for the first time since the 1950-53 war.

'Zellweger, who has visited North Korea seven times in the past year, said she had seen many more people trudging into the hills to collect food.

'The country of some 22 million people has seen serious food shortages and critically low food stocks after devastating floods in its North Hwanghae province last year.

'Everybody suffers because of food rations,' Zellweger said.

'At their best the rations were 31 ounces per person per day but this had now been cut to 8.8-10 ounces a day, less than half the minimum need, she said.

'There is still a (few) months to go before we can have food again,' she said, adding that the harvest season would not start until September.

'People will become weaker and weaker. But on the other hand they need all their strength to do the farming because farming is done mainly by manual labor,' she said.

'People were not giving up hope, she said.

'This month, the United States ruled out immediate food aid to North Korea [probably because the U.S. grain reserves are almost nonexistent -- Website administrator], supporting the South Korean argument that the North could still manage its food shortage.

'China said on Thursday it was close to deciding on the type of grain to give North Korea under an accord to provide 20,000 tonnes in aid.'

-- AOL news bulletin.