The Heat Is Online

North Korean famine -- 1996

See "U.N. Says North Korea Will Face Famine As Early as This Summer," The New York Times, May 14, 1996.

Also:"Thousands face starvation in North Korea"

BEIJING, Nov. 18 (UPI) -- Nearly 150,000 people are on the verge of starvation in North Korea following a series of devastating floods and crop failures during the summer, international aid workers said Monday.

Announcing the launch of a $10.5 million aid program to the isolated and impoverished Stalinist state, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said many of those at risk are in remote areas not reached by government food programs.

Others are elderly or disabled and cannot make it to ration centers,

where meager portions of rice and wheat are distributed.

``A series of disasters has created serious food deficit problems and

their impact may last for several years,'' said Ole Gronning, the federation's permanent representation in Pyongyang.

Gronning noted the vital aid package will include food, winter clothing and 550 goats for an animal breeding project.

``The main assistance will comprise 450 grams of rice/maize per day for each person,'' he said, adding the federation will also provide soybeans, vegetable oil and medical kits for more than 300 Red Cross first aid posts across the country.

``The people we are supporting rely entirely on the Red Cross,'' Gronning stressed. ``They are outside the government's food distribution system and are not receiving help from any other organization.''

Among the groups targeted by the Red Cross are whole families left with nothing since the floods, single, pregnant or lactating mothers, the elderly and widows.

``Their needs are almost overwhelming,'' Gronning said.

The Red Cross has been working in North Korea since September 1995

when the worst floods in living memory left 500,000 people homeless. In July and August 1996, further floods wreaked havoc across 117 of the country's 245 counties, sweeping away the homes of 147,000 individuals.

Some 32,000 heads of livestock were also swept away, further exacerbating the nation's food crisis.

According to the North Korean government body coordinating the flood

relief program, this year's harvest will show a shortfall of 2 million tons, or 40 percent of the volume needed to feed the population through 1997.


"North Korea food shortfall seen worse than expected"

BEIJING (Reuter) Nov. 18, 1996 -- North Korea, badly hit by floods, expects a shortfall of two million tons of grain next year, equal to 40 percent of the nation's needs and significantly worse than expected, a Red Cross official said Monday.

``This is bad news, really bad news in a country that already doesn't have much now,'' Ole Gronning, representative of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in North Korea, said by telephone.

The federation was trying to raise $10.5 million for a new program to buy grain to stave off hunger for some 140,000 North Koreans who would begin running out of food by the second half of December, Gronning said.

He said the federation had appealed to member societies in Europe, North America and Japan to donate money urgently needed to start buying grain and clothes.

``Hopefully, we will have the first pledges very, very soon so we can start purchasing,'' he said. Only a few months ago, aid workers estimated the food

shortage would be 1.5 million tons. ``Their shortages are serious...they (North Korean

officials) have not been able to meet the daily food ration,'' Gronning said.

Farmers whose crops had been wiped out by devastating floods in July had eaten about 400,000 tons of grain before it came to maturity and this would worsen the food shortage this winter, he said.

North Korea has faced the specter of famine since July after the floods destroyed about 373,000 tons of grain, compounding damage from widespread flooding in 1995.

Official figures showed North Korea would need 5.5 million tons of grain next year, but this year's harvest had yielded just 3.5 million tons, Gronning said.

``In some of the villages and the valleys we are now going into, they were working on repairing the damage from the 1995 floods and then they got hit once again,'' he said.

``They have lost everything, including houses, livestock and so on,'' he said.

The summer floods had submerged large tracts of arable land for more than 10 days. Some of that land was now covered in sand and mud and could not be farmed again.

``The second floods left people in a really bad situation,'' Gronning said. ``People will be running out of food in the second half of December.''

The federation would work with the North Korean Red Cross Society to distribute a daily ration of 15.75 ounces of grain and a helping of supplementary foods such as soybeans to each person, he said.

Aid workers would try to provide stricken residents with winter clothes and blankets to brace against winter temperatures that could drop as low as minus four degrees F, he said.

``Without enough food and without proper heating, these people are really badly off,'' he said.

North Korea, despite its philosophy of self-reliance, cracked open the door to foreign aid last year in the face of looming food shortages.


"North Korea chilled by famine as spring approaches"

BEIJING, March 18, 1997 -- (Reuter) - Hunger is tightening its grip on North Korea and thin, lethargic children are the harbingers of a famine that could strike the impoverished Stalinist state as early as this month, U.N. officials said on Tuesday.

Already meagre food rations were in danger of disappearing in a country racked by devastating floods, failed harvests and a wheezing communist economy, said Catherine Bertini, executive director of the United Nations' World Food Programme (WFP).

``Immediate assistance is absolutely necessary on the part of the international community in order to help stave off potential malnutrition and potential starvation,'' Bertini said.

A thin diet of rice, roots and dried leaves had stunted the growth of children in villages still trying to recover from summer floods in 1995 and 1996, Bertini told a news conference.

``We visited schools, for instance, and saw children, some of whom were very active and others who were lethargic, and some who were literally malnourished,'' she said.

``Clearly, clearly the children are smaller,'' she said.

Worsening conditions in the countryside appeared to be directly linked to the sacking of the North Korean farm minister earlier this month, she said. ``In general, people hold their jobs as long as they do a good job,'' she said of the dismissal, one of several recent shakeups in Pyongyang's power structure.

On Tuesday, Pyongyang's chief ideologue Hwang Jang-yop flew to the Philippines after he defected to South Korea's mission in Beijing on February 12.

Government authorities were handing out 100 grams (3.5 oz) of rice a day to each person, a meagre ration that provided just one-fifth the daily calories needed by an adult, she said.

``This is supplemented by dried leaves,'' she said. ``They chop up the leaves and put them in the rice.'' The severe flooding had laid down thick layers of sand on

once-fertile fields and had swept away most farm animals and poultry, robbing farmers of valuable protein.

``There's very little protein in this diet and very little volume. People have told us their meat supply is practically nonexistent,'' Bertini said.

``If once a year they have meat for a meal that's a big treat,'' she said.

North Korea, whose fiery ``juche'' ideology of strict self-reliance once made it fiercely scornful of foreign aid, needed to import about 2.3 million tonnes of grain for 1997 to ward off the spectre of famine, she said.

``Even the government officials themselves say that by the end of March, beginning of April, the food is going to run out,'' Bertini said.

About 300,000 tonnes of the grain deficit was caused by the floods while the bulk of the shortfall was a result of the hermit nation's backward Stalinist farming system, she said.

The WFP would start handing out 100,000 tonnes of grains and soybeans to farmers on April 1, with 20 percent of that going to children under the age of five, she said.

But programme officials hoped to raise a further $41 million to buy another 100,000 of grains to target children under the age of six, she said.

``With the present system everybody gets the same ration, which means everybody has the same level of malnutrition,'' WFP country director for North Korea Birgitta Karlgren said.

``When it strikes, it strikes everybody,'' Karlgren said.