- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 4, 2002

The United Nations appealed urgently to the international community yesterday for donations to feed millions of starving North Koreans, but the United States said it would provide no more food this year and had yet to decide whether to do so in 2003.

Washington has given the reclusive North 155,000 metric tons of food, which is more than a quarter of the 611,000 the U.N. World Food Program (WFP) has sought for 2002. When it sent the last installment in June, the Bush administration warned Pyongyang that future deliveries would depend on its willingness to ease the tight restrictions it has imposed on food-aid monitoring.

"We made quite a generous contribution," a State Department official said. "We made clear that this was the base-line total for 2002, and that additional assistance would depend upon North Korea's addressing our concerns for access. They have not responded to date, and we have not made decisions to provide any additional aid for 2002."

According to a map provided by the WFP, aid agencies have been denied access to nearly a quarter of the country.

Pyongyang's admission earlier this fall that it has been enriching uranium in a secret nuclear-weapons program has deepened its international isolation. In the summer, the communist government of Kim Jong-il introduced symbolic economic reforms to ease the burden on its citizens, but living conditions have yet to show signs of improvement.

Even after the July measures, which included huge, immediate increases in both prices and wages, urban families spend up to 85 percent of their income on food and rely heavily on inflation-prone "farmers markets," where the price of rice continues to increase.

Because of an "unprecedented slump" in donations for the North this year, the WFP had to cut off food aid to 3 million of its beneficiaries. It also downsized its annual assistance amount to 430,000 tons. For next year, the agency is asking for $201 million to feed 6.4 million North Koreans.

"It is vitally important to get adequate pledges promptly if we are to repair the damage caused by enforced aid stoppages since September that have deprived 3 million of the hungriest children, women and elderly people of badly needed help," said Rick Corsino, the WFP's country director for North Korea.

"Hundreds of thousands more face ration cuts early in 2003," he said in a statement issued to journalists from Pyongyang.

In early June, Washington provided its last contribution for this year in the amount of 100,000 metric tons of food, after having given the North 55,000.

In a statement then, the U.S. Agency for International Development said that total food aid to North Korea since 1995 was 1.9 million metric tons, valued at approximately $620 million.

"The United States remains deeply concerned about the restrictions placed on food aid monitoring, the humanitarian community's lack of access to many North Korean counties, and the need for countrywide nutrition surveys according to internationally accepted standards," the statement said.

"We call upon North Korea to significantly expand access and permit improved monitoring for humanitarian programs and to implement an updated countrywide survey this year of children's nutritional status consistent with international standards," the agency said. "Consideration of additional food aid to North Korea will depend on verifiable progress in these areas."

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