Feb. 18 (UPI) -- North Korea is facing a food shortage of more than 1 million tons, and aid should be provided in a timely manner, the South's unification ministry said.
Minister Lee In-young said Thursday at a meeting of the National Assembly's Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee that the shortage is due to heavy flooding in North Korea last summer.
Citing ministry statistics, Lee said supply is down 200,000 to 300,000 tons this year due to climate change-induced typhoons, News 1 reported.
North Korea is estimated to be short anywhere from 1.2 to 1.3 million tons of food in 2021 after accounting for last year's natural disaster, Lee said.
The top inter-Korean affairs official for Seoul recommended humanitarian cooperation and food aid, which should be pursued on a "separate track from political, economic and security matters."
Last year, Seoul proposed assistance, but Pyongyang ignored the offers. The South's military recently warned that the North was expanding its missile facilities.
Lee, who was briefing lawmakers about the North on Thursday, also said there is no confirmation on the status of the new Pyongyang General Hospital. Construction began last year after Kim Jong Un complained about the lack of adequate medical facilities in the country.
"Although it's not known exactly, one must understand the completed construction of the exterior should be interpreted differently than its internal facilities," Lee said. "It can be assumed that [construction] has been delayed."
Seoul's military recently came under criticism after a North Korean man breached a DMZ buffer zone and was not taken into custody for several hours. Supporters of President Moon Jae-in are pushing back against the criticism, however.
Former South Korean Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae said Thursday on Facebook that the expectations of strictly enforced border security are "foolish," Yonhap reported.
A mass exodus of refugees from North Korea would be unstoppable, Choo said, while comparing South Korean border security expectations to the building of walls at the United States' southern border during the Trump administration, according to the report.