Relief agencies are rushing food to North Korea, staving off hunger while the struggling nation awaits harvest season, Mercy Corps' president said Tuesday after returning from a visit there.
Nancy Lindborg spent last week in North Korea on an inspection tour with other aid managers. Food needs are urgent, she said, as Koreans await deliveries from domestic crops in November.
"It's not at the famine level of the mid-'90s, but it's a low-level chronic food crisis," Lindborg said. "If they didn't get this food, it would spiral pretty quickly. They're right on the edge."
Portland-based Mercy Corps is leading a group of five aid agencies delivering the first installments of 500,000 tons of food promised by Washington. The shipments are the first significant U.S. food deliveries to North Korea in eight years.
This time, North Korea's government is allowing 16 humanitarian workers to stay in the isolated nation to monitor distribution. "We really have unprecedented access," Lindborg said.
Two ships have delivered about 8,000 tons of wheat and corn so far, she said. Another vessel is unloading about 1,100 tons.
Current food shortages are caused by flooding last year, rising global food and fuel prices, a lack of assistance from South Korea and interruptions of shipments from China.
Lindborg, who left North Korea on Saturday, had no information about the condition of leader Kim Jong Il, who missed the 60th anniversary celebration of the nation's founding amid reports that he was seriously ill.
"When we were there," Lindborg said, "they had the usual throngs and throngs of people massing to practice for the 60th anniversary."