Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Death from starvation still happening in North Korea

North Korea’s rulers have held rare emergency meetings to grapple with increasingly dire food shortages as more people starve to death, a Seoul-based welfare group said Tuesday.

A survey conducted by the Workers’ Party of Korea said about 2,000 people had starved to death across the reclusive communist state this winter, Good Friends, which has extensive cross-border contacts, said in a newsletter.

The grim results of the survey prompted cabinet, party and security officials to hold a series of urgent meetings in late January and early February, it said. “The survey indicates starvation and food shortages are getting serious across North Korea,” group director Lee Seung-Yong told AFP.

“Overall figures were not available, but we believe more people starved to death” after the country’s chaotic currency change last November, he said. In recent years the regime has tried to reassert state control over the economy by restricting private markets, which sprang up after the state food distribution system collapsed in the famine years.

The currency revaluation on November 30 has reportedly played havoc with distribution networks, aggravating food shortages and sparking inflation. Good Friends quoted an unidentifed ruling party official as conceding that the currency move had aggravated the hunger crisis.

“The closure of markets was a hasty decision because it came without normalising distribution networks,” the official reportedly said. The group said Pyongsong and Sunchon in South Pyongan province were hit hard by food shortages because the military collected 65 percent of last year’s grain harvest from residents in the two cities.

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