This image released on June 30, 2018, by the North Korean Official News Service (KCNA), shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visiting a reed branch farm in Sindo County, North Phyongan Province. File Photo by KCNA/UPI | License Photo
SEOUL, July 16 (UPI) -- Nearly half of North Koreans don't have enough to eat, a report released by the United Nations said, as the country continues to face a food shortage exacerbated by drought and a poor harvest this year.
Some 47.8 percent of North Koreans, or 12.2 million people, are undernourished, according to "The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World," a report released on Monday by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
That figure is a sharp increase from the 35.4 percent who were undernourished in 2004-2006, according to the report. Only three countries have a higher prevalence of undernourishment than North Korea: Haiti, the Central African Republic and Zimbabwe.
The report follows a joint assessment from the FAO and the World Food Program in May that found 10.1 million people in North Korea were "in urgent need of food assistance" due to the worst harvest in a decade.
The assessment found that many were surviving on rations that had been slashed to just 300 grams (10.5 ounces) of food per day, down from 380 grams, and cautioned that rations could be cut even further during the July-September period between harvests.
South Korea pledged last month that it would send 50,000 metric tons of rice to North Korea, its first food donation to its neighbor since 2010. It is aiming to deliver the food before September.
In the meantime, the food situation does not appear to be improving in North Korea. The country's state media reported last week that severe drought was ongoing and could severely affect this year's harvest.
A recent assessment from the Group on Earth Observations Global Agricultural Monitoring Initiative said that June's wheat and barley harvests in North Korea appeared to be worse than expected. The group had projected a 20 percent decrease from previous years but said that the yields could be lower.
"Recent information from the [North Korean] government suggests that final yields may be even lower due to below average and poorly dispersed rainfall during the season, as well as irrigation water shortages and lack of inputs," the crop assessment said.
The isolated state remains under stringent U.N. Security Council sanctions for its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, which some argue are exacerbating the food crisis and making it more difficult to provide other humanitarian assistance.
"Although Security Council sanctions clearly exempt humanitarian activities, life-saving programs continue to face serious challenges and delays," Tapan Mishra, the U.N. resident coordinator in North Korea, said in March. "While unintended consequences of sanctions persist, these delays have a real and tangible impact on the aid that we are able to provide to people who desperately need it."
Globally, the U.N. report said that after a period of decline, hunger is slowly on the rise, with 820 million people hungry and about 2 billion people experiencing moderate or severe food insecurity.
Climate change, conflict, instability and slower-than-expected world economic growth have created new food security, health and nutrition challenges, according to the report.
"After a decade of steady decline, the number of people suffering from hunger in the world has slowly increased for several years in a row," the report said.