April 6 (UPI) -- North Korea said there is no child malnutrition in the country, and that the foreign press was using "absurd" and "fabricated data" to the make the claim.
State-controlled news agency KCNA reported Tuesday that North Korea's Research Institute for Nutrition Care of Children, under Pyongyang's health ministry, slammed reports of hungry children as lies.
"As the person responsible for the nutrition management of our nation's children, I firmly reject the data, and affirm that the data are completely inaccurate and absurd lies," an unidentified North Korean director at the institute said.
According to Yonhap and other South Korean news services, the North Korean statement was a response to a survey of non-governmental organizations conducted by a panel of experts under the U.N. Security Council Sanctions Committee on North Korea.
In January, UNICEF issued its third annual Asia and the Pacific Food Security and Nutrition report. North Korea ranked highest among countries from 2017 to 2019 for "prevalence of undernourishment," according to the U.N. assessment.
But the report also indicated North Korea was making progress in other areas, including lower rates of stunted growth among children less than five years of age. According to UNICEF, North Korean children exhibited lower rates of stunted growth than India, the Philippines and Bangladesh.
"We will thoroughly examine whether the 'humanitarian cooperation' project under the banner of the United Nations and non-governmental organizations really helps us," the North Korean spokesperson said.
"We think we need to take decisive countermeasures against organizations that collaborate with hostile forces."
The World Food Program previously said about 10 million North Koreans, or 40% of the population, face malnutrition.
World Food Program spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs said last year that evidence existed of "long-term damage to the health and development of children, as well as pregnant and nursing mothers."
South Korea has proposed humanitarian assistance but North Korea has not responded to the offers.
Newsis reported Tuesday Seoul's unification ministry is to conduct a survey of separated families to assess the feasibility of virtual family reunions amid COVID-19.
The survey will address a group of 48,000 people separated from their family in North Korea after the Korean War, or their descendants, the report said.
The survey also will cover 1,173 Korean immigrants living outside South Korea, including in the United States.