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'Clear evidence of humanitarian need' in North Korea, UN aid chief says

14 July 2018

Mark Lowcock, the United Nations aid chief, returned to Beijing from Pyongyang on Thursday, after looking into what is believed to be a precarious food situation in North Korea due in part to natural disasters.

Among children under five, 20 percent have experienced stunted growth. and almost half of children in rural areas don't have access to safe drinking water.

Speaking at a press conference in Pyongyang, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock said funding was the greatest obstacle his organization faces in assisting North Korea.

He said the DPRK has made a lot of progress, illustrated by the fact that the number of stunted children has dropped from 28 percent to 20 percent since 2012. "Almost half the children in rural areas as well don't have access to clean water".

It said it had to stop nutrition support for kindergartens in North Korea in November because of a lack of funds, while its "2018 Needs and Priorities Plan" in the country is 90% underfunded. "The UN is trying to raise 111 million dollars to meet humanitarian needs in the areas I've talked about - health, water and sanitation, food security - for about 6 million people".

But both the United Nations and the World Food Programme (WFP) have expressed satisfaction with improving access this year, with Lowcock saying Wednesday in Pyongyang that there was "better access across the country for United Nations staff than we have had in the past".

North Korea has periodically been hit by starvation, and hundreds of thousands of people died - estimates range into millions - in the mid-1990s.

"The North Korean authority tends to exaggerate the food problem, because they are interested in getting as much food aid as possible", he said. "I would say one-third [of the population] is malnourished every spring".

"So there are still significant humanitarian challenges here despite the progress that has been made", he said.

North Korea has faced food shortages against a backdrop of natural disasters including floods and a failing food distribution policy in the past.

'Clear evidence of humanitarian need' in North Korea, UN aid chief says