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CNN gets rare glimpse of North Korea

Link to large photo of drought

Millions devastated by worsening famine

August 13, 1997
Web posted at: 7:44 p.m. EDT (2344 GMT)

PYONGYANG, North Korea (CNN) -- The famine in North Korea has affected the entire country, with most people getting only one-fifth the food they need, according to a CNN correspondent who was allowed to make a rare trip to that secretive Communist nation.

The scenes CNN broadcast from drought-stricken North Korea are stark. The So Hang reservoir, one of the nation's biggest lakes and primary water sources for crops, is 96 percent dried up. If rain does not come within two weeks, the lake and many others will be gone, officials told CNN's Eason Jordan.

"The situation here is unquestionably dire," Jordan said after touring the countryside and interviewing government officials. "What makes this famine unique is that the entire country is being affected, the entire populace."

A L S O :

Image gallery

North Korea weather forecast

Mini, digital camera used in broadcast from North Korea

North Korea aid organizations

North Korea, desperate for food aid to ease the effects of the severe food shortage, allowed CNN a rare live broadcast from the devastated region Wednesday.

The nation's 24 million people are living off an average 150 grams of food per day, or about 12 spoonfuls -- one-fifth the intake experts say is needed for a healthful diet. Children and elderly are dying at an increasing rate, although the exact death toll is not immediately known.

North Korea's corn crop, typically more than 7 feet high at this time of year, barely reaches waist-level. Nearly 70 percent of the corn crop has been wiped out, officials said. Rice fields where there should be a foot of water contain about 1 or 2 inches of moisture.

Reclusive North Korea has granted few journalists access to the devastated region. CNN's Eason Jordan takes you there.

The drought also is sapping the nation's electric supply, 60 percent of which is usually generated by hydroelectric dams. As a result, some facilities are without power and the capital Pyongyang is dark at night because street lights are being kept off to preserve electricity.

CNN's Eason Jordan on the scope of the famine
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In recent days, the North Korean government has invited aid agencies and diplomats to visit the country to document conditions. The severe food shortage was brought on by years of agricultural mismanagement, two years of massive flooding and this year's drought.

Reclusive North Korea is normally off limits to outside journalists, but CNN was allowed in for a visit to Pyongyang and the hard-hit countryside.

James Laney, the former U.S. ambassador to South Korea, said the North Korean government's unwillingness to admit a food shortage existed for years before the current crisis has compounded the severity of the famine.

"North Korea has been so secretive for so long -- so reclusive, so enigmatic -- that no one has known much of what's going on there. Of course, they could hide it as long as they wouldn't allow the media or foreign observers to get in," Laney told CNN.

Former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea James Laney comments on why the situation in North Korea has become so desperate:
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North Korean officials now admit the malnourishment is severe, resulting in disease and death of untold numbers of Koreans. Government officials said the country needs 800,000 tons of food by the end of October.

A North Korean relief official told CNN the country not only needs immediate food aid but long-term help such as fertilizers, irrigation equipment and loans from agencies such as the Asia Development Bank to get the country back on track.

Meanwhile, international relief workers are doing what they can to supply food. The United Nations World Food Program is attempting to feed 2.6 million North Korean children aged 6 and under.

But a U.S. congressional delegation that visited the region said North Korea's military and government elite may have siphoned off some of the international food aid intended for its starving citizens.

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