U.S. aid groups urge food for North Koreans after survey

Wed Feb 23, 2011 6:22pm EST
 
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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - North Korea faces "looming food shortages and alarming malnutrition" as bad weather hurts harvests and rising food prices push up the cost of imports, a group of five U.S. aid agencies said on Wednesday.

Christian Friends of Korea, Global Resource Services, Mercy Corps, Samaritan's Purse and World Vision all called for emergency food aid for North Koreans after their survey of three provinces this month revealed hunger and shortages, they said in a statement.

The aid agencies' survey team, touring at the request of the North Korean government, "observed evidence of malnutrition, food shortages, and people foraging for wild grasses and herbs," said the statement.

"These trends are particularly prevalent among families that depend on the North Korea public food distribution system, and most severely impact children, the elderly, the chronically ill, and pregnant and nursing mothers," it said.

The aid groups recommended supplementary rations of protein-rich foods for those vulnerable groups, as well as rations for orphanages and maternity and pediatric wards.

The food security assessment covered 45 sites including hospitals, orphanages, residences, cooperative farms and warehouses in the provinces of North Pyongan, South Pyongan and Chagang from February 8-15, it said.

More than 15 years after reclusive North Korea first asked the international community for food aid during a deadly famine, South Korean media reported this month that Pyongyang has been asking other governments for food.

The level of responses to the recent pleas in not clear, but Western governments have been reluctant to donate food until North Korea shows more willingness to allow monitoring of distribution and comply with international relief norms.

Commenting on a U.S. review of the new North Korean food requests, Republican Senator Richard Lugar said any aid must be contingent on Pyongyang "allowing access and accountability by monitors in accordance with international standards."

"It is essential to ensure that the U.S. assistance is actually received by hungry North Korean children and their families rather than reinforcing the North Korean military whose care is already a priority over the rest of the population," Lugar said earlier this month.

(Editing by Christopher Wilson)