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4 out of 10 North Koreans undernourished: FAO

North Korean flag (AFP-Yonhap)
North Korean flag (AFP-Yonhap)

Around 42 percent of North Koreans have suffered from undernourishment over the past three years, a UN report said Friday, as the impoverished nation grapples with acute food insecurity amid the prolonged pandemic and severe weather conditions, compounded by international sanctions. 

As many as 10.9 million people in North Korea, or 42.4 percent of the population, were undernourished from 2018 to 2020, according to the Statistical Yearbook – World Food and Agriculture 2021 released by the Food and Agriculture Organization on Thursday. 

The figure is up from 2004-2006 period, where the comparable rate was at 33.8 percent, and was slightly down from 42.6 percent from 2017 -2019 term. 

The UN defines undernourishment as habitual food consumption being “insufficient to provide the dietary energy levels that are required to maintain a normal active and healthy life.”

Only five countries -- Somalia, Haiti, the Central African Republic, Yemen and Madagascar -- reported higher prevalence of undernourishment than North Korea in the report. 

The average dietary energy supply of a North Korean per day came to 2,075 calories, below the world average of 2,950 calories and South Korea’s 3,465 calories in the 2018-2020 period. 

In an indication of chronic or recurrent malnutrition, around 1 in 5 children under the age of 5 in North Korea had suffered stunted growth as of the end of 2020.

The child stunted growth rate came to 18.2 percent, or about 300,000 children under the age of 5, according to the report. The figure is an improvement from 29 percent in 2010, but still high compared to the rest of the globe.

The FAO had earlier projected that North Korea would be short about 860,000 tons of food this year, which is equivalent to approximately 2.3 months worth of food for the country.

In the latest Crop Prospects and Food Situation Report, the FAO put North Korea on its list of 44 countries in need of external assistance for food.
North Korea has been categorized as a country with “widespread lack of access” to food, where a large proportion of the population suffers from “low levels of food consumption, very poor dietary diversity.”

“The economic constraints, particularly resulting from the global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, have increased the population’s vulnerability to food insecurity,” the report said. 

The North has suffered chronic food insecurity for years, but the situation was aggravated by last year’s flooding, which wreaked havoc on its farming sector. The COVID-19 outbreak has also exacerbated the country’s food crisis, as the North, which relies on China for food and other materials, suspended all trade with its main partner to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

In recent months, South Korea and the US have sought to provide humanitarian assistance to the North, with the US saying it supports aid to the reclusive nation regardless of progress in nuclear diplomacy.

The allies are almost ready in their preparation to provide aid to the North, according to a senior Seoul official last month. 

Unification Minister Lee In-young met with David Beasley, chief of the World Food Program, in Rome last week, and discussed ways to cooperate on tackling the North’s food situation. 

“I believe we can always conduct humanitarian cooperation with North Korea, including the food problem,” Lee said during a radio interview with CPBC on Thursday, reflecting his meeting with Beasley. “And when an occasion arrives, there’s no need to hesitate,” he said adding the government remains ready to provide aid to the North.


By Ahn Sung-mi (sahn@heraldcorp.com)
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