North Korea heads for new food crisis: UN

UN says North needs 3.5 million tons of cereals a year to feed its population.

Last Updated: Oct 22, 2010, 09:49 AM IST

New York: North Korea is heading for a "chronic" new food crisis with drought and floods in different parts of the country exacerbated by cuts in international aid, the United Nations said.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern "that the acute humanitarian needs" of at least 3.5 million women and children in North Korea would worsen because of food shortages.

Even though North Korea is considered by many to be the world`s most isolated state, Ban said in a report to be discussed on Friday that "the global economic crisis is further increasing the levels of hardship" adding to the "chronic food insecurity".

North Korea suffered famine like conditions in the 1990s in which several hundred thousand people died, according to aid groups. There are worries now as the North heads into its notoriously long and biting winter.

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

The UN predicted that the cereal yield would be nearly a fifth lower than in 2009.

It said the country needs 3.5 million tons of cereals a year to feed its population and would have to import 1.1 million tons. In addition, UN agencies had raised only 20 percent of the USD 492 million they estimated in 2009 would be needed for the North.

Ban quoted the UN Children`s Fund (UNICEF) as saying that each year, some 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.”

"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 poor diet across the country leads to widespread "infectious diseases, physical and mental development disorders, poor labour productivity and an increased risk of premature death”, said the grim report.

A survey carried out by the government with UN support showed that about one third of the population suffer from stunting -- below normal body growth. In some regions the figure was 45 percent.

The report was intended to be on human rights in North Korea and 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.

The UN reported little change in the "comprehensive restrictions" on freedom of speech, religion and opinion in the tightly policed state. "The government`s control over the flow of information is strict and pervasive."

Ban highlighted the difficulty in getting reliable information on events in the North.

But he said: "There are a number of reports concerning public executions, the use of torture, forced labour and the ill-treatment of refugees or asylum-seekers repatriated from abroad."

His report said North Korea`s UN delegation had acknowledged that public executions were carried out for "very brutal violent crimes”.

It added that the UN envoy on rights in North Korea had raised concerns with the North`s mission about conditions in six prisons and detention centres reportedly used for political prisoners.

With the North embroiled in a dispute with South Korea over the sinking of a warship and in a nuclear arms standoff with the international community, Ban said humanitarian aid should not be restricted "on the basis of political and security concerns”.

Bureau Report