U.N. official: All North Korean children now at risk from famine

UNITED NATIONS (AP) –North Korea’s food crisis has worsened to the point that all of the country’s children now are considered at risk of suffering malnutrition, a U.N. official said Thursday.
The food shortage is being compounded by a lack of adequate heating during the bitter Korean winter and the collapse of North Korea’s health care system, said Douglas Coutts, chief U.N. humanitarian coordinator for North Korea.
To combat the problem, U.N. agencies were setting up a nationwide school lunch program for all North Korean children under 12 years of age, said Coutts, a Canadian who has been based in North Korea since September.
This is in addition to a program to feed younger children in state-run nurseries and day-care centers, he said.
“We’re also going to be providing a much broader ration scale to all these children as it’s very clear they are not receiving anywhere near the amount of food they need to be getting at home in order to sustain their health,” Coutts added.
On Tuesday, the U.N. World Food Program appealed for more than $378 million to feed nearly a third of North Korea’s people and avert a “humanitarian catastrophe.”
It is the biggest emergency operation in the World Food Program’s 35-year history. Coutts said the new programs will increase the number of North Koreans receiving U.N. assistance from 4.7 million to 7.5 million in a nation of 24.3 million people.
U.N. experts estimate the country needs more than 1 million tons of food aid this year to avert a famine. North Korea has suffered three years of devastating weather conditions, which have caused severe problems for the inefficient, communist-style agricultural system.
To improve nutrition, Coutts said U.N. experts are developing a high-energy biscuit which will be produced in North Korea. Ingredients for a corn-soya drink also will be imported, he said.
Coutts said food aid alone was not the answer to the health and nutritional problems facing North Korea, one of the world’s last Stalinist states.
“The health sector aspects must be coordinated very, very carefully,” he said. “We have many situations where food is supplied and the medicines are not available for the children to deal with the various medical problems they have developed.”
He also said the deterioration of the North Korean health sector meant many children and others at risk lack access to medical care, portable water and other resources.