BBC - UN warns of Serbia food crisis

Tuesday, 14 December, 1999, 20:38 GMT

The United Nations is stepping up aid to Serbia, saying food shortages there are comparable to those in North Korea.

The UN World Food Programme is planning to help the 10% of the Serbian population it says is facing serious humanitarian problems.

The WFP says it will provide food for 890,000 people, about 330,000 more than last year.

"I would not say it is a humanitarian catastrophe, but I would say that the situation is very, very serious, and it is getting more serious," said Robert Hauser, emergency co-ordinator of the WFP in Belgrade.

Poverty in Serbia has increased significantly over the last decade as a result of the Yugoslav conflict and UN economic sanctions.

The WFP's planned programme for Serbia, costing $92.5m, will involve the distribution of 145,000 tonnes of wheat, sugar and other food items to poor people such as pensioners, the disabled and refugees.

Coping mechanism

Some 337,000 Serb refugees from the wars in Bosnia and Croatia in the mid-1990s remain in Serbia. And up to 240,000 Serbs fled the southern province of Kosovo after the deployment of Nato troops in June.

"If you look at the people now - the poor people, the ones who have lost their jobs, the pensioners, the unemployed - you really have to ask yourself: why are they not dead yet?" Mr Hauser said.

"So they must have some kind of a coping mechanism that keeps them alive, but it doesn't mean that it is a pleasant life," he added.

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