The United Nations (UN) has warned that a serious drought in North Korea requires urgent action to prevent the death of children already weakened by widespread malnutrition.
The UN children’s fund, UNICEF, made the warning on Thursday in a bid to push for international action to tackle the deadly crisis in N Korea.
“The situation is urgent. But if we act now — by providing urgently needed expertise and supplies — we can save lives,” said UNICEF East Asia Regional Director Daniel Toole.
“If we delay until we are certain of crop failures, it may well be too late to save the most vulnerable children,” Toole said in a statement.
Pyongyang said last month that it is experiencing its worst drought in a century, with some of its main farming regions particularly hard hit.
UNICEF also said that there had been in a sharp increase in cases of diarrhea among children in drought-affected areas, as access to safe drinking water and sanitation was severely compromised.
“Lack of rain reduces access to clean water and undermines effective hygiene, putting children’s lives at risk,” Toole said.
Concerns about the impact of the drought are heightened by the existing poor nutritional status of many children in North Korea.
A 2012 study shows that as many as one in four children have symptoms of chronic malnutrition, UNICEF said.
According to the UN body, responding to the current drought crisis was difficult given the international embargoes imposed on North Korea and the lack of funding for children-focused programs in the country.
The international agency, however, has released emergency supplies to help those in the worst-affected provinces.
The supplies, UNICEF said, include water purification tablets, water storage containers and health supplies for children with acute malnutrition.
Last month, South Korea’s Unification Ministry, monitoring the drought on the Korean Peninsula, predicted that the North’s 2015 crop production could fall 20 percent year-on-year.
UN figures show that over 70 percent of North Koreans are food insecure and 28 percent of children under the age of five have suffered stunted growth due to malnutrition.
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