EU to donate €10m in aid as food crisis hits North Korea


THE European Commission has warned that more than half a million North Koreans are in danger of starvation as the isolated communist state grapples with its severest food shortage for years.

With children under the age of five already hospitalised for acute malnutrition, the commission will today unveil plans to provide €10 million in emergency food aid to Pyongyang before the next cereal harvest in October.

The commission, which believes the situation in the country is steadily deteriorating, decided to release the money on foot of a report by humanitarian experts who visited North Korea last month.

“Our experts saw severely malnourished children in hospitals and nurseries where no treatment was available,” said humanitarian aid commissioner Kristalina Georgieva.

“The purpose of this aid package is to save the lives of at least 650,000 people who could otherwise die from lack of food.”

North Korea is notorious for feeble economic management under its centrally planned system. A famine in the 1990s killed hundreds of thousands of people.

The country has been pleading this year for increased food aid from the outside world. It has blamed the dearth of supplies on bad weather, rising global prices for food and the termination of support from the US and South Korea.

The US suspended aid in 2008 due to a monitoring dispute. The Obama administration sent a human rights envoy to Pyongyang in May, the first official contact between the sides in 17 months, but it is still weighing whether to resume its support.

South Korea suspects the north may be trying to stockpile food to give away as presents to the people next April when it marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of its founder Kim Il Sung.

Seoul also suspects Pyongyang might be seeking to hoard food to dim the impact of any hardening of international sanctions if it conducted a third nuclear test.

However, Ms Georgieva said it was clear North Korea’s chronic nutrition problem was turning into an “acute crisis” in some parts of the country.

“Because of well-founded concerns I have insisted that a strict monitoring operation is pursued from the point of delivery of the food aid at the ports all the way to the neediest recipients,” she said.

“If at any stage we discover that the aid is being diverted from its intended recipients then the commission will not hesitate to end its humanitarian intervention.”

In their mission to the country last month, commission officials visited hospitals and clinics, kindergartens and nurseries, markets and co-operative farms and state food distribution.

Most of the aid will be directed toward the northern and eastern provinces of the country.

Children in hospitals and residential care will be fed, as well as pregnant and breastfeeding women, hospital patients and the elderly.

Observers believe most North Koreans are receiving much lower supplies under the public distribution system that is usual at this time of year. Pyongyang is importing food, but at a rate far below the minimum required to feed the people.