Report: Malnutrition Rampant in North Korean Province

North Korean kids. There is alarming evidence of severe malnutrition, especially among children, in the reclusive Asian country. Photo by: Tom Haskell / World Food Program

There is “alarming evidence” of severe malnutrition, especially among children, and damaged crops in parts of North Korea, but there are also indications the country could have a good rice harvest in the upcoming season, a team of journalists who visited the reclusive Asian country in a rare, government-controlled trip said.

Hospitals and orphanages in the farming provinces of South Hwanghae are full of severely malnourished children, journalists from AlertNet, a humanitarian news service of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, said. Health workers there said they do not have adequate supplies to address the need of their patients, the agency’s team adds.

The team was invited by North Korea’s Economy and Trade Information Center to visit South Hwanghae to see the extent of the crisis. The invitation came after AlertNet turned down a request from the North Korean government to reach out and mobilize assistance from the more than 500 aid agencies in its network.

Aside from cases of malnutrition and inadequate medical supplies, the team reported damaged crops and farm fields due to savage winter earlier this year and more recent flooding.

But the team said it also saw “lush-looking paddies” all over the province.

“Visitors to the central parts of the country, including areas around Pyongyang, have also reported seeing crops in good condition,” AlertNet says.

There have been conflicting reports on the extent of the food situation in North Korea, with several aid agencies urging the international community to act to avert crisis there while some donors, including South Korea, have accused North Korean officials of exaggerating the extent of its food situation. The United States, for its part, has yet to decide on whether it would resume aid operations in the country, citing concerns over aid monitoring and possible diversion.

The top U.N. relief official, Valerie Amos, is set to visit North Korea to asses the situation there and discuss with local officials their long-term plan for improving food security.

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  • Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.