Children of North Korea are ‘stunted and malnourished’
Millions of North Korean children are not getting the food, medicine or health care they need to develop physically or mentally, leaving many stunted and malnourished, the United Nations has said.
Nearly a third of children under the age of five show signs of stunted growth, particularly in rural areas where food is scarce, and chronic diarrhoea because of a lack of clean water, sanitation and electricity has become the leading cause of death among children, the UN said.
“I’ve seen babies ... who should have been sitting up who were not sitting up, and can hardly hold a baby bottle,” Jerome Sauvage, the UN’s Pyongyang-based resident co-ordinator for North Korea, said in Beijing yesterday before presenting his latest report to donors.
The report paints a horrific picture of deprivation in the countryside, not often seen by outsiders, who are usually not allowed to travel beyond the relatively prosperous Pyongyang, where cherubic children are hand-picked to attend government celebrations.
Mr Sauvage’s report provides not only further evidence of North Korea’s inability to feed its people, but also bolsters critics who say the government should be spending on food security instead of building up its military, testing rockets and pursuing a nuclear programme.
Yet the government has begun to publicly acknowledge a severe shortage of food for the first time in years.
In late May, in an unusual admission of a food problem by a high-ranking official, North Korea’s premier, Choe Yong Rim, urged farmers to do their part in alleviating the food shortage, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency.
North Korea does not produce enough food to feed its 24 million people, and relies on limited purchases of food as well as outside donations to make up the shortfall. About 16 million North Koreans – two-thirds of the country – depend on twice-a-month government rations, the UN report said.
Rations usually consist of barley, maize or rice, if they’re lucky, while many children are growing up without eating any protein, Mr Sauvage said.
South Korea had been one of North Korea’s biggest benefactors until conservative President Lee Myung-bak took office in 2008, ending unconditional aid by linking it to progress on North Korea’s nuclear disarmament process.
Seoul has no immediate plans to resume massive direct food and fertiliser aid to North Korea, South Korean unification ministry spokeswoman Park Soo-jin said yesterday.
Mr Sauvage also noted that North Korea runs spotlessly clean hospitals but with limited facilities.
“The health care system is on paper quite sophisticated. The proportion of doctor per household is very high,” he said. “Unfortunately, there’s not a lot in the doctor’s toolkit.
“You go and visit a hospital in winter and it will not be heated. There will most likely be no water. There will likely be no medicine other than the medicine that agencies are delivering.”
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