Millions of N. Koreans depend on external food aid: UN

SEOUL (AFP) - Millions of people remain dependent on external food aid in North Korea where nearly 28 per cent of children under five are stunted from malnutrition, a UN official has said.

Desiree Jongsma, UN resident coordinator in North Korea, said two thirds of its 24 million population were chronically food insecure although timely imports had contributed to avoiding a crisis this year.

"Although the overall humanitarian situation has improved slightly over the last 12 months, the structural causes of people's vulnerability persist", she said Friday.

According to a 2012 UN national nutrition survey, nearly 28 per cent of children under five suffer from chronic malnutrition and four per cent are acutely malnourished.

Anaemia and under-nutrition are one of the major causes of maternal and child mortality, the survey said.

North Korea's health care services and supplies are unable to meet basic needs, its infrastructure including water and heating systems need repair as education facilities are also "rapidly deteriorating", Jongsma said.

UN agencies continue to assist those most vulnerable but they remain "seriously underfunded", rendering them unable to address all humanitarian needs, she said.

In 2013, a total of US$147 million (S$183 million ) is needed, of which only 27.8 per cent has been received so far, she said.

UN agencies said in November that overall production for the main 2012 harvest and 2013 early season crops was expected to be 5.8 million tonnes, up 10 per cent on 2011-2012.

But the poverty-stricken country was still struggling to eradicate malnutrition and provide its people with vital protein, the Food and Agriculture Organisation and World Food Programme said.

North Korea has suffered regular chronic food shortages under the Kim dynasty, with the situation exacerbated by floods, droughts and mismanagement.

During a famine in the mid to late-1990s, hundreds of thousands died.

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