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Hungry North Koreans face killing winter

bags of food November 12, 1996
Web posted at: 10:10 p.m. EST (0310 GMT)

Editor's note: The five-day United Nations World Food Summit opens Wednesday in Rome.

From Correspondent Mike Chinoy

RAJIN-SOMBONG, North Korea (CNN) -- Two years of unprecedented natural disasters and an inefficient socialist economy have left the people of North Korea hungry and weak.

Now they face the onset of the harsh Korean winter with acute shortages of food and fuel, and virtually no help from the international community.

"There is no famine, but there's a severe food crisis," said Dr. Albrecht Lein of the Korea Economic Information Bureau.

"There is only 200 grams of rice a day for a person and that is all."


In recent weeks, the North Koreans have been bringing in the fall harvest, hoping to replenish their badly depleted food stocks. But with so much land devastated by disastrous flooding the past two years, the current crop is clearly not going to be enough.

A two-million ton grain shortfall, about half of what is needed to feed the country of 22 million people, is generating some unprecedented changes in North Korea's harshly regimented society.


One significant impact of the food crisis has been a loosening of central government controls over the economy, with farmers increasingly allowed to sell their products on the open market.

But with relatively few free markets and the state food distribution system in shambles, North Koreans are so weak and malnourished, many may not make it through the winter.

"It will be a very, very tough winter for many, many hundreds of thousands and maybe millions of people," said Red Cross official Margareta Wahlstrom.

Lein said in their weakened condition, the North Koreans will not be able to withstand much.


"It hurts the weak, the children, and the old and the ill people. There is only needed some very little attack and they die," Lein said.

There is widespread speculation the food crisis may eventually sink North Korea's rigid and isolationist political system, and its leader, Kim Jong II.

But so far, tight political controls have ensured that the lack of food has not led to political upheaval.


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