Three Million North Koreans
Now Dead From Famine

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Famine has killed three million North Koreans since August 1995, the head of a South Korean humanitarian organization and a former Bush administration official estimated Tuesday.
To avert further widespread deaths in 1998, ``at least 2 million metric tonnes'' of food aid is needed, said Pomnyun, a Buddhist monk who heads the Korean Buddhist Sharing Movement. ''It is very, very evident we don't have mch time.'' Andrew Natsios, executive director of World Vision Relief and Development and former assistant administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development's bureau of food and humanitarian assistance, agreed with Pomnyun's estimate that three million North Koreans have died in the past 33 months. ``I don't think it's hundreds of thousands. I think it's bigger than that,'' Natsios said. ``The more I look at the data, it's very disturbing.''
Pomnyum based his estimate in large part on surveys done by his organization of 605 North Korean refugees who crossed the Chinese border between September 30 and March 3. Among other things, the refugees were asked how many family members had died since August 1995, when severe floods destroyed much of the country's crops.
Altogether, the refugees reported that 27 percent of their family members had died - or 859 out of 3,239. The death rate was highest for members below 10 years of age and above 50. In January, U.N. World Food Program officials estimated that North Korea would need more than one million tonnes of food imports in 1998.
Anticipating that North Korea would arrange to import some food on its own, the WFP appealed to donor nations to provide 647,972 tonnes of food worth $378 million. To date, nations have pledged about 242,000 tonnes of food in response to the WFP appeal.
That includes 200,000 tonnes from the United States, of which the first shipment of 22,000 tonnes was scheduled to arrive in late March, a US AID spokeswoman said. Natsios said the stories told by the refugees of hoarding food, selling their furniture and scavenging for food in the wild show all the classic signs of a widespread famine. ``This is a very carefully done survey,'' Natsios said. ''It's not a slap-dash deal.''
Natsios described the world response so far to the North Korean food situation as ``abysmal'' and particularly faulted the European Union for not doing more. A recent agreement between the U.N. Development Program and North Korea could be the first step toward that country rebuilding its capacity to produce food, he said. ((Doug Palmer, Washington newsroom + 1 202 898 8341 fax + 1 202 898 8383,

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