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North Korea — nutrition or nukes?

UNITED NATIONS -- A summertime famine looms in North Korea as the reclusive communist country has again seen a precipitous shortfall in food production. According to U.N. humanitarian officials, following a disastrous harvest, food deficits will double over last year’s already poor output and reach the most dangerous levels since 2001. And while food shortages plague the quaintly-titled Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), the Pyongyang leadership still pursues its nuclear proliferation despite polite warnings to cease from the international community.

The U.N. World Food Program confirms a “critically low national harvest, stemming in part from last years floods.” In the meantime according to Tony Banbury the agency’s regional director for Asia, “The food situation in the DPRK is clearly bad and getting worse. It is increasingly likely that external assistance will be urgently required to avert a serious tragedy.”

Shortfalls for 2008 are projected as 1.66 million metric tons, double last year’s deficit and the most dangerous level since 2001. At the same time food prices for an already impoverished population have jumped, leading the WFP country director Jean-Pierre de Margerie to warn, “The rapid rise in the real prices of food for persons living in the DPRK conforms WFP’s fears that the DPRK may suffer deeper and more widespread hunger this year.”

The U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization states that 2007 agricultural production reached only three million metric tons of cereals — rice, maize, wheat, barley and potatoes. This represents a 25 percent decrease from 2007 and the poorest harvest since 2001. Given that disastrous North Korean harvests in the mid-1990’s triggered a famine killing a few million people, the current crisis may be dangerously underestimated.

Blaming the weather is naturally a standard practice for food shortages in dictatorships.

Stalin’s Russia created famine in the agriculturally bountiful Ukraine, Mao’s maniacal farm policies triggered near perpetual shortfalls in Mainland China, and food shortages plague the Pyongyang regime which has long decided to opt for guns over butter.

Until 2005, the WFP was assisting six million people or a quarter of the entire North Korean population! But since the Pyongyang regime told the WFP to cut back on its operations, the humanitarian agency has been aiding only about a million persons. Still the Rome-based U.N. agency fears that over six million North Koreans continue to suffer from food insecurity, “a figure that is expected to rise if action is not taken to address growing food shortages.”

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