10 May 2008

Famine fears for North Korea, aid group warns

North Koreans are dying because of food shortages in rural areas, and a massive famine is just a matter of time, a South Korean aid group said Friday.

The food situation was as bad as the famine that hit the country in the mid-1990s, which left as many as 2 million people dead, Seoul-based Good Friends -- a Buddhist-affiliated group that sends food and other aid to the North -- cited an unidentified North Korean official Friday as saying.

"So far, mass deaths have not occurred as people have become more used to starvation than in the 1990s, but famine is a matter of time," the official was quoted as saying by the aid group.

Good Friends also quoted Kim Ki-nam, 39, a resident of Sariwon, south of Pyongyang, as saying one or two deaths were happening every day in rural areas around the city.

North Korea has relied on foreign assistance to help feed its 23 million people since the mid-'90s.

This year's food situation has worsened because last year's harvests were hampered by devastating floods. The North also has refused to ask for help from South Korea after a new conservative government took office in February that has been critical of the Pyongyang regime. More on CNN.com