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25,000 North Korean children starving amid drought

North Korea is need of aid, but the country's nuclear weapons testing is overshadowing its humanitarian crisis.

By Elizabeth Shim
25,000 North Korean children starving amid drought
North Koreans work in the fields near the North Korean city Sinuiju, across the Yalu River from Dandong, China's largest border city with North Korea. A drought that slashed food production by 20 percent has resulted in malnutrition for nearly 25,000 North Korean children, according to UNICEF. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

SEOUL, Jan. 26 (UPI) -- A drought that slashed food production by 20 percent has resulted in malnutrition for nearly 25,000 North Korean children.

UNICEF, the United Nations' children's fund, said the children need emergency care and has asked donors for $18 million for North Korea, The Guardian reported Tuesday.

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While UNICEF's request for funds is rising, donations are falling, according to the organization.

Sources say that whenever Pyongyang tests a nuclear weapon, international pledges fall precipitously.

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Even before North Korea announced its fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6, donations were down. UNICEF received just 38 percent of a $22 million fundraising target for 2015.

North Korea is not the only troubled country where conflict is victimizing increasing numbers of children.

Aid also is needed for children caught in the refugee crisis in Syria, and in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, UNICEF said.

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In North Korea alone, the drought not only cut food production but also children's access to safe drinking water, said Timothy Schaffter, UNICEF's North Korea representative.

"If we are unable to secure additional funding, our supplies of essential medicines will start running out in March, nutrition supplies will be depleted by mid-year, and our highly successful immunization program will run out of basic vaccines before the year's end," Schaffter said.

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In the most drought-affected areas, UNICEF said there has been a 72 percent increase in diarrhea among children.

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The humanitarian crisis in North Korea, however, is being overshadowed by recent events, including Pyongyang's announcement of a "successful" hydrogen bomb test.

In Seoul, Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo said the North should be prevented from further "wrong behavior" by sanctions, South Korean television network SBS reported.

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