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UN: 11 million North Koreans need food, kids are stunted

Published:Thursday | March 14, 2019 | 12:00 AM

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — An estimated 11 million people in North Korea — over 43 per cent of the population — are undernourished and “chronic food insecurity and malnutrition is widespread,” according to a UN report issued yesterday.

The report by Tapan Mishra, the head of the UN office in North Korea, said that “widespread undernutrition threatens an entire generation of children, with one in five children stunted due to chronic undernutrition.”

With only limited health care and a lack of access to clean water and sanitation, “children are also at risk of dying from curable diseases,” the report added.

Mishra said that last year’s UN appeal for $111 million to help six million of North Korea’s most vulnerable people was only 24 per cent funded, one of the lowest levels in the world.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters yesterday that the UN humanitarian team in the country is calling for $120 million “to urgently provide life-saving aid to 3.8 million people.” Without adequate funding this year, some agencies providing desperately needed help to North Koreans will be forced to close down, he said.

Dujarric said North Korea’s government asked last month for help from international humanitarian groups to combat food shortages. He said food production figures provided by North Korea showed “there is a food gap of about 1.4 million tons expected for 2019, and that’s crops including rice, wheat, potato and soybeans.”

Mishra’s report said North Korea faces annual shortfalls in agricultural production because of a shortage of arable land, lack of access to modern agricultural equipment and fertilisers, and recurrent natural disasters. Last year, it said, there was a severe heat wave in provinces considered to be the country’s “food basket,” and the food situation was further aggravated by Typhoon Soulik in late August.