LONDON (AlertNet) - North Korea has appealed directly to Thomson Reuters Foundation and its network of international relief agencies to help mobilise emergency aid to tackle severe food shortages in the reclusive state.
Hwang Hyon Chol, director of North Korea's Economy and Trade Information Centre, made the unprecedented request in an email to the Foundation, which has built up an alliance of about 500 aid agencies through its AlertNet humanitarian news service.
"As no less people including children in orphanages in Wonsan, Sariwon etc. and researchers in research institutions face a serious problem arising from lack of food, we are seeking food aid either from your Foundation or international charities introduced by you," he wrote.
"The quantity of needed food compiled till now amounts to 100 thousands tonnes (sic) no later than end-August and any species of cereals including rice, wheat, maize, beans etc. is needed."
The appeal to international charities comes as international sanctions, a tough conservative leader in South Korea and a wary U.S. administration have meant a substantial decline in food aid from traditional donors.
North Korea has reached out to dozens of countries and organisations around the world for aid, complaining that bad weather, rising global food prices and the termination of aid from South Korea and the United States had slashed supplies.
On Monday, the European Commission said it would give 10 million euros ($14.2 million) of food aid to help a hunger crisis that has left over half a million people at risk of dying.
More than 6 million people are in urgent need of outside assistance, according to a United Nations report issued in March.
Aid agencies and governments believe North Korea, which suffers chronic food shortages, needs about 5.3 million tonnes to feed its 23 million population.
But critics say the secretive North has siphoned off food aid in the past to feed its million-strong army, and South Korea says the North's food stocks are at more or less the same levels as last year.
Some officials say North Korea may be trying to stockpile food to prepare for a national celebration next year to mark the 100th anniversary of the state founder's birth.
The E.U.'s decision comes as Washington also weighs resuming food aid to the North, after suspending its shipments in 2008 in a monitoring row.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said after visiting North Korea in April that withholding food aid was a human rights violation.
The sticking points for Washington are whether there will be greater transparency in the way food is distributed and whether monitors can check it reaches those in need.
In the email to Thomson Reuters Foundation's chief executive, Monique Villa, North Korea's Economy and Trade Information Centre invited Foundation representatives to visit Pyongyang to assess the severity of the food crisis.
"I earnestly request your sincere assistance in the solution of this problem as you regard humanitarian issues as of great importance," the centre's Hwang Hyon Chol wrote.
Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the world's leading provider of news and information, runs free humanitarian and legal news services and journalism-training programmes around the world.
AlertNet was set up in the aftermath of the Rwanda genocide to help international aid agencies better coordinate their activities.
($1 = 0.705 Euros)