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World Raises an Eyebrow To N. Korea's Plea for Food

Aid agencies predict severe famine, but US and others remain wary

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IN a surprise move, reclusive North Korea is pleading for help to feed the masses in its self-styled workers' paradise. But so far, much of the world isn't listening.

Appeals made by a United Nations relief agency and the International Red Cross on behalf of the isolated nation have not been answered. And the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) announced that it was giving up on efforts to respond to the famine due to a lack of funds.

"It means that we'll not just be walking away from a major humanitarian disaster but from an opportunity to establish an international presence in North Korea, one of the most closed societies left in the world," says Michael Ross, a spokesman for WFP.

Already paralyzed by declining agriculture production, North Korea was hit last August by the worst rain in a century. The widespread flooding affected an estimated 5 million people and left 500,000 - nearly 5 percent of the country's population - homeless.

On top of an expected 20 percent drop in farm output this year, floods swept away 40 percent of the harvest and damaged more than 160,000 acres of farmland, the Red Cross says.

And a WFP team that visited North Korea in September reported widespread hunger. With the onset of winter, tens of thousands of North Koreans are facing famine and malnutrition, the UN agency says.

The WFP borrowed $2 million from its emergency account and last month delivered 5,000 tons of rice - a quarter of what the UN agency deemed essential to feed half a million people for 90 days. But without cash contributions from donor nations it cannot afford to send more. And the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has been unable to meet its $4.4 million appeal to help North Korea.

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