One of the worst human disasters of this decade is unfolding now--behind closed doors in North Korea. Except for rare glimpses through a crack in the door controlled by a harsh communist government, what's going on is nearly unknown to those of us on the outside.
But the few Western visitors allowed in North Korea have seen fleeting glimpses of children in the advanced stages of starvation, fallow croplands, little food and hungry adults.
As the communist world disintegrates, North Korea can no longer count on aid and credit from other communist regimes. With only 20 percent of its land arable, the country's ability to feed itself has been further hampered by a string of natural disasters: hailstorms (1994), floods (in both 1995 and 1996) and this year's drought. These natural disasters have led to human ones.
Only when the situation became desperate did the official North Korean emergency committee ask for outside help.
A coalition of Christian agencies--including Lutheran World Relief, Church World Service and ACT, a joint operation of the Lutheran World Federation and the World Council of Churches--is one of the groups that stepped in to help. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America International Disaster Response has already channeled money through this group for food, fertilizer and medicine.
The coalition recently sent a field representative, Erich Weingartner, a Canadian Lutheran, who is assessing needs and monitoring aid that does arrive. At press time he reported that the government allowed World Food Program staff to do a national nutritional survey. Results were expected by the end of September.
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