N Korea Heading for New Food Crisis

In Asia, Drought & Fires, Floods & Storms, Global Food Crisis, News Headlines

The United Nations says North Korea is heading for a new food crisis, with drought and floods in various parts of the country exacerbated by cuts in international aid.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon expressed concern in a grim report to be discussed today “that the acute humanitarian needs” of at least 3.5 million women and children in the isolated nation would worsen.

But despite the looming disaster, South Korea says it has no immediate plans to resume large-scale food aid, stressing the importance of an improvement in icy inter-Korean relations.

The UN chief said in the report that “the global economic crisis is further increasing the levels of hardship” in the isolated nation, adding to “chronic food insecurity”.

North Korea, which suffered a devastating famine in the 1990s in which several hundred thousand people died, is heading towards its notoriously long and biting winter.

There has been a shortage of rainfall in some parts of the isolated nation but in August torrential downpours caused floods in the north near the Chinese border.

The United Nations predicts the cereal yield will be nearly a fifth lower than in 2009.

It says the country needs 3.5 million tonnes of cereals a year to feed its population and would have to import 1.1 million tonnes.

In addition, UN agencies have raised only 20 per cent of the $US492 million they estimated in 2009 would be needed for the North.

Mr Ban quoted the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) as saying that each year 40,000 children under five become “acutely malnourished” in North Korea, with 25,000 needing hospital treatment.

“The lack of maintenance of water and sanitation systems increases rates of diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections, which are leading causes of child death,” he said.

“In addition, one third of women of childbearing age suffer from anaemia, a nutrition deficiency that is also a major cause of maternal mortality.”

The report says poor diet across the country is leading to widespread “infectious diseases, physical and mental development disorders, poor labour productivity and an increased risk of premature death”.

The UN chief said there was an “urgent need” for Kim Jong-il’s regime to take steps to provide the basic right to food, water, sanitation and health.

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