North Korea is approaching another severe food crisis, according to international relief groups who are calling on the U.S. and other governments to join South Korea in increasing aid to the reclusive communist nation.
Floods and a brutal winter have cut into crop production and -- combined with rising global food prices -- have created severe food shortages throughout the country. Aid groups are increasingly concerned about the health effects on North Koreans, especially the country's children.
"North Korea is approaching a catastrophic situation for vulnerable populations including children, the elderly, and pregnant women," according to David Austin, North Korea Program Director for Mercy Corps, an international aid organization based in Portland, Ore.
North Korea has experienced food shortages for decades. In what was considered to be one of the worst famines of the 20th century, an estimated million people starved to death in the 1990s, though official figures are unavailable and some counts put the toll much higher. Austin said that the current situation, while not as dire yet, is extremely urgent. "When you add these shocks -- the floods and an especially cold winter -- to an existing weakened system, the population is going to get hit much harder," said Austin. "That's why this year is worse than previous years."