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Fasting to stave off starvation.

Famine is estimated to have killed 2 million people in North Korea since the 1990s--nearly as many as the 2.5 million people reported killed during the Korean War. As many as 10 million North Koreans are suffering acute food shortages in this time before the fall harvest.

The United States promised in mid, May that it would provide 500,000 tons of food, of which 37, 000 tons of wheat. were delivered to North Korea in late June. China has sent 50,000 tons of corn. The rest of the aid won't be sent until September.

The higher costs a flood and transportation have put the pledged food aid in trouble.

That's why South Korean Buddhist monk Venerable Pomnyun is appealing to his government for immediate, unconditional food aid to the North. On May 26, he began a water-only fast to 'feel the same pain as North Koreans."

Pomnyun launched a petition drive July 8 to collect 1 million signatures to help bring food aid to North Koreans.

New America Media: What motivated you to fast?

Venerable Pamnyun: There are many North Koreans starving to death. However, the conflicts between the South and North Korean governments, and their indifference, gave rise to this grave problem. The South Korean government says it can provide emergency food to North Korea only when they request aid. But the North Korean government says it would rather let their people starve to death than ask South Korea for help....

No matter how fiercely we appeal to the country with this serious issue of North Korean famine, nobody seems to be concerned about the problem. North Korea is such a closed society that nobody outside can see or hear the cries from the suffering people.

But aren't the negotiations among North and South Korea, Japan, Russia, China and the United States, the so-called six-party talks, going to help the situation?

The six-party talks are only focused on the issue of North Korea's nuclear weapons programs, and the mass media shows little, If any, interest in [the issue of hunger].... Under these circumstances, I decided to fast for the following reasons.

First, while fasting, I am willing to feel the same pain as North Koreans suffer. Secondly, by fasting, I will not forget about their suffering and will keep seeking ways to help them out. Lastly, I have to pour all of my energy and heart to impress heaven so that under these adverse circumstances a miracle can happen to stop their starvation.

What is the current state of North Koreans' famine?

Ten million people--that amounts to the half of North Korea's population--suffer from food shortages, and among those 10 million, about 3 million people are in danger of starvation. The present situation is not as serious as what happened in the mid-1990s ... However, without any urgent measures, it is estimated that 500,000 to 600,000 people will starve to death by September.


How much longer are you going to keep fasting?

Fasting is for me a way of focusing my mind. I pray to help North Koreans during fasting.... I am not fasting to attract people's attention, or protest for a certain demand. [But I do] appeal to people to help North Korea.... I won't stop until I think I need to finish praying. If I cannot control myself, I should stop.

What would you tell those who do not want to help North Korea because it develops nuclear weapons programs and launches missiles?

It is North Korean leaders that have developed nuclear weapons programs and missiles. But it is innocent North Korean residents who suffer from starvation. They include children, the elderly, and the poorest in the country and urban areas. We intend to save these poor people that even the North Korean government has disregarded.


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Article Details
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Title Annotation:WORLD
Author:Taesoo, Jeong
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:9SOUT
Date:Aug 8, 2008
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