Friday, May 23, 2008



North Korea has spent more than five decades cut off from the world. It is so secretive that no one knows how many people died in its famine of the 1990s, although analysts have estimated it killed 3-5 percent of the population. Now it faces another food and humanitarian crisis after a poor harvest that has caused food prices to skyrocket.

· Largest grain deficit in seven years

· Hit by floods and rising commodity prices

· Relies heavily on international aid

The Stalinist state, which still depends on aid from China, South Korea and U.N. agencies to feed millions of people, blames natural disasters for its hunger woes. But observers say catastrophic economic mismanagement is also responsible.

Floods in August 2007 compounded the country's misery, ravaging farmland and homes, affecting nearly a million people.

n response, South Korea resumed direct aid deliveries that it had suspended after the North carried out missile tests in July 2006. International sanctions were also imposed in October of that year after Pyongyang announced it had carried out a nuclear test.

Pyongyang has since agreed to take steps towards nuclear disarmament in exchange for $300 million in aid. But food shortages and human rights abuses still represent a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions that has prompted tens of thousands to risk their lives trying to escape across the border into China.

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