Six million North Koreans chronically short of food

SEOUL, Feb 24, 2008 (AFP) – Nearly six million North Koreans are in chronic need of foreign food aid this year with children, nursing and expectant mothers and the poor most at risk, the World Food Programme said Sunday. A Seoul official and media reports said this month however that South Korean rice aid intended for North Korean civilians had been diverted to frontline army units. The UN agency said the nation would be short of an estimated 1.4 million tonnes of food this year, nearly a quarter of its total needs, following severe floods last August which wiped out more than 10 percent of the grain harvest.

“Young children, pregnant and breast-feeding women and poor families in both urban and rural areas will be most at risk of hunger,” the WFP said in a statement.

“Many already struggle to feed themselves on a diet critically deficient in protein, fats and micronutrients.”

The hardline communist state was hit by famine in the mid- to late-1990s which killed hundreds of thousands. Since then, the country has relied on international food aid to help feed its people.

The agency said malnutrition rates had fallen since the late 1990s. But it said 37 percent of young children are still chronically malnou