North Korea`s growing food crisis risks leaving six million people without enough to eat in a country where a third of children under five are already malnourished, UN food agencies said on Thursday.
Diminished international aid, a bitter winter that hit crops and a drop in the amount of food the isolated country purchased from abroad have left North Korea with chronic shortages, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said.
"Over six million people are in urgent need of assistance," a statement from the organisation said.
Speaking in Bangkok on his return from a visit to the country at the invitation of authorities in Pyongyang, the FAO`s Hiroyuki Konuma said there was a food deficit of around a million tonnes.
Humanitarian support to North Korea "has decreased tenfold" in the last 10 years, the UN agency said, adding the country "is now one of the world?s most chronic under funded humanitarian emergencies".
The World Food Programme (WFP), which launched an emergency operation in North Korea in April this year, has issued an appeal for 300,000 tonnes of basic commodities this year, but has received barely 10 percent of this amount.
WFP spokesman Marcus Prior said even before this "tough year" began, a third of children under five were malnourished.
North Korea has drastically cut public food handouts in recent months with people resorting to eating grass to survive, one of the most experienced aid workers in the isolated nation said recently.
Food rations have been cut to as low as 150 grams (5.3 ounces) a day per person in some parts of the country as foreign donations collapse, Katharina Zellweger, head of a Swiss government aid office in Pyongyang, said in June.
The situation is made worse by higher international prices of food that make imports more expensive, Zellweger warned.
North Korea is under UN Security Council sanctions over its nuclear weapons program.
But UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said last month that it should be given humanitarian aid regardless of "political considerations or any other calculations".
North Korea went through a famine in the 1990s in which hundreds of thousands of people are said to have died.