"And there shall be famines..." (Mat.24.7)
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Two million North Koreans - nearly 10 percent of the population - may have died during three years of famine in North Korea, AP quoted U.S. congressional aides. Video footage brought back from the secretive communist country by a congressional staff delegation showed sickly, emaciated children, some with stick-thin bodies. To survive the persisting food shortages, North Koreans are eating weeds, grasses and corn stalks that are mashed into powder and sometimes mixed with flour to make noodles or cakes, AP said.
Over the past three years, the famine has killed an estimated 300,000 to 800,000 people annually, with the number of deaths peaking in 1997, said Mark Kirk, one of the bipartisan delegation's four members. He said the figures came from U.S. government sources, refugees and North Korean exiles.
Deaths were most likely from famine-related illnesses, like pneumonia, tuberculosis, and diarrhea, rather than starvation itself, he said. The food shortages were precipitated by two years of flooding followed by a drought last year that pushed the reclusive Communist nation's inefficient collective farming system to the brink of collapse. The famine has left North Korea's 23 million people largely dependent on foreign aid.
Children and adults are dying of famine every day at Ajiep in south Sudan's Bahr al-Ghazal region where the situation is deteriorating despite the efforts of aid organizations, AFP reported.
For more than a month some 10 children have been dying each week in the nutritionalcenter run by Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF, Doctors Without Borders), which looks after more than 2,300 people. The overall mortality rate at Ajiep is 15 dead per 10,000 people per day, whereas a rate of two per 10,000 is already considered disastrous by aid organizations, MSFsaid.
Ajiep lies just 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of Wau, which is under Sudanese army control. Ajiep, a very isolated place but near enough to Wau where there was bitter fighting recently, draws people from far and wide seeking food at a time when MSF admitted Friday in Brussels that the famine in southern Sudan has reached the scale of the catastrophe in Ethiopia in 1984.
The situation is also dramatic in Wau due to the arrival of many villagers in the government-held garrison town. Since May, 47,000 often very weak new arrivals have been counted in Wau and 1,000 to 2,000 continue to flood in every day.
CANDABA, Philippines--This is the year the rains didn't come to Southeast Asia. Sun and heat conquered the land, and the paddies dried up, turned into a great expanse of cracked rust-red earth that yielded little but brown tufts of dying rice.
"These fields you see," said Bienvenido Gatus, Candaba's mayor, his hand sweeping toward the horizon, "should be under 5 feet of water this time of year. Normally, we couldn't have even driven out here on this road. It'd be flooded too." But the thirsty land around him was as lifeless as a desert. The temperature stood at 100, and it was not yet noon.
The drought, now entering its second year, has already caused $20 billion in damages and lost crops in the region, the Asian Development Bank says. It has led to food shortages and several hundred deaths and is, environmentalists say, the most severe dry spell to strike Southeast Asia in at least 40 years. Singaporean Information Minister George Yeo Yong Boon says this period has presented the region with its biggest calamity of the '90s.
First, there was the Asian economic crisis, which destroyed a decade of progress. Then, bush fires in Indonesia choked the region with heavy blankets of haze, causing economic losses estimated at $1.3 billion. And finally, the drought took hold of the land and ravaged the livelihoods of millions.
The economic crisis, in which currencies were devalued and stock markets plunged, forced millions of Asians who had moved to the cities in search of employment to return to their rural homes. But once there, they found that the drought had killed their chance to farm, for the current harvest season at least. And the drought fueled inflation by pushing up food prices, which, in turn, worsened the effects of the economic crisis.
In Vietnam, where 900 forest fires have flared this year, the drought has devastated the coffee crop and caused $385 million in damage overall; 50% of Vietnamese in rural areas are "basically unemployed" the Rural Development Ministry says.
Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City had power blackouts in April and May because water produces 70% of Vietnam's electricity and water supplies sank dangerously low. In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's capital, 600,000 residents have been affected by water rationing, and many middle-class families haul buckets of water up to their apartments.
More than 7.5 million people in 15 Indonesian provinces are facing food shortages, reports World Vision, an international relief organization.
Thailand, the world's largest rice exporter, does not have enough water to plant a second crop this year, officials at the Agricultural Ministry say. And in the Philippines, when hungry tribespeople trekked out of the hills and into the city of Cebu for food, the only help Pablo Garcia, the governor, could offer was to tell them, "Eat less."
The furnace-like temperatures in Southeast Asia have led to an increase in mosquitoes, which have spread diseases like dengue fever in Thailand. In some Indonesian villages, aid workers say, every resident has malaria. Vietnam has had to cope with an infestation of rats foraging for food, while the Philippines has seen an advancing army of worms.
In the second half of the 20th century, famine no longer is a scourge of nature but results from war, politics and other misdeeds of man.
Thanks to breakthroughs in science and agriculture, the world now produces enough food to feed every man, woman and child on the planet. But hunger and starvation persist. And in many places, they appear to be worsening.
Despite a worldwide glut of food, 18 million people die of starvation, malnutrition and related causes every year, according to a newly released Johns Hopkins University study. And more than 800 million people are chronically undernourished, U.N. statistics show.
More often than not, the reasons for this cruel paradox--hunger in the midst of global plenty--have little to do with natural causes. Of the millions who go hungry every day, "we estimate that only 10% are victims of disaster," said World Food Program Executive Director Catherine Bertini.
At last year's World Food Summit in Rome, a U.S. Department of Agriculture report identified some of the forces that create hunger: war and civil strife, misguided national policies, trade barriers such as crop subsidies, technology, environmental degradation, poverty, and gender inequality.
The most dramatic moment at the Summit came when Cuba's aging revolutionary Fidel Castro rose and asked the audience, "If the world has more than enough food to feed all its people, why should even one person starve? Why should even one child go hungry?
"Hunger, the inseparable companion of the poor, is the offspring of the unequal distribution of the wealth and the injustices in this world. The rich do not know hunger" said Castro. "What kind of cosmetic solutions are we going to provide so that in 20 years from now there will only be 400 million instead of 800 million starving people?"
A near-record number of countries face food supply emergencies this year, mainly because of the effects of the El Niņo weather phenomenon, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization warned. "The number of countries facing food emergencies has increased to 37 compared to 31 toward the end of last year, mainly due to the effects of El Niņo," FAO said.
The Rome-based agency, in a January/February Food Outlook, painted a grim picture of food supply woes stretching through Africa, Asia, Latin America, parts of the former Soviet Union and including Iraq and North Korea. More than 800 million people in the developing world are chronically undernourished, the agency said.
Aid agencies say hundreds of thousands of people in more than a dozen countries face imminent starvation.
Africa is worst affected, with about 350,000 people in southern Sudan at risk. Thousands more have been left destitute by the floods in eastern Africa. Along the Pacific coast of Latin America, storms and floods caused by El Niņo have made hundreds of thousands of people suffer. The same weather phenomenon has brought drought to much of Southeast Asia, leading to widespread food shortages in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines.
Aid agencies are particularly concerned about starving children in southern Sudan, where thousands of people have been made homeless by civil war. A drought had worsened their plight, and many have been reduced to scrabbling for grass seeds in the dust.
Farther south, famine has been caused by too much rain. The aid organization Oxfam said 192,000 people needed food aid in northern Kenya. Another 100,000 are at risk in Tanzania. In Zambia, 25,000 people needed emergency aid.
Oxfam has also given warnings that the coastal floods in Peru and Ecuador have left tens of thousands homeless and hungry. Almost a million people have been displaced in Colombia by terrorism and fighting, of whom about 10 percent need emergency food aid.
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|Articles on this Page
N. Korea: Famine killed 2 million
Sudan: Famine reaches scale of Ethiopia
Southeast Asia is parched by drought
The coexistence of feast and famine
El Nino spreads food crisis to 37 countries
The needy and the greedy
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