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Majority of North Koreans suffer from food insecurity, says U.N.

A U.N. official said food and other aid from the international community has decreased dramatically over the years.

By Elizabeth Shim
Majority of North Koreans suffer from food insecurity, says U.N.
Kim Il-sung Square, Pyongyang, North Korea. The U.N. estimates 70 percent, or 18 million North Koreans are experiencing some kind of food shortage. Photo by Astrelok/Shutterstock

NEW YORK, April 9 (UPI) -- North Korea is experiencing a food shortage and the reduction in food aid from the international community is posing risks to ordinary North Koreans who were once victims of a major famine two decades ago.

Ghulam Isaczai, the U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for North Korea told Voice of America around two million children, pregnant women and elderly North Koreans are suffering from malnutrition.

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Of those undergoing pregnancy, Isaczai said 350,000 women cannot receive proper medical treatment, and they suffer from a lack of care in the aftermath of childbirth, reported Yonhap.

The U.N. official said food and other aid from the international community has decreased dramatically over the years. Humanitarian aid to North Korea in 2004 was estimated to be $300 million, but it was down to $50 million by 2014, he said.

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Other statistics suggested a grim situation for the majority of North Koreans.

It is estimated 70 percent, or 18 million, are experiencing some kind of food shortage.

In the area of healthcare, the U.N. said 25 percent of North Koreans cannot receive basic vaccines, and 27.9 percent of children under the age of 5 are suffering from chronic malnutrition. A lack of drinking water for 7 million North Koreans also leads to malnutrition and disease.

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Other reasons for malnutrition in North Korea, Isaczai said, was the damage done to crops by storms, floods and droughts. A faulty food policy also created obstacles to proper distribution.

To prevent another disastrous famine, the United Nations has started a campaign to raise $111 million to help the segment of the North Korean population that is vulnerable to food shortages.

The U.N. also is working with Pyongyang to devise a new 5-year plan to address the structural roots of malnutrition and poor health among North Koreans.

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Isaczai said aid operations are sometimes hindered, due to international sanctions that prevent the proper transfer of funds into North Korea needed to support U.N. humanitarian activity.

Some equipment cannot be brought in, he said, because they are on the sanctions list.

"But we've been able to work around them and still bring humanitarian aid to support the populations," said Isaczai.

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