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United Nations
Food & Hunger

11 Million North Koreans Are in Dire Need of Food Aid: UN

Why Global Citizens Should Care
North Korea has long been the site of one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises and the situation could get worse unless emergency aid is mobilized by the international community. The United Nations’ Global Goals call for universal access to food, health care, education, and more. You can join us in taking action on these issues here.

As discussions for the denuclearization of North Korea reach a seeming impasse, more than 3.8 million citizens across the country are in dire need of food aid, according to a new report by the United Nations.

The multinational organization is calling for $120 million in emergency aid to respond to the crisis. More than 90% of nutrition-related aid and 92% of health aid would support women and children, the report notes.

“I appeal to all our potential donors and stakeholders to rise above political and security considerations, and to not allow them to get in the way of providing life-saving aid to the men, women, and children who need it the most,” Tapan Mishra, UN resident coordinator in North Korea, wrote in a statement accompanying report.

“We simply cannot leave them behind,” he added.

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Mishra says that 11 million North Koreans “lack sufficient nutritious food, clean drinking water, or access to basic services like health and sanitation.”

The situation is made worse by massive humanitarian funding gaps, sanctions, a struggling food production sector, and regional inequality.

Last year, humanitarian agencies received only 24% of requested funding for North Korea, according to the report. This forced various programs to either shut down or shrink, which left 1.4 million people without food aid.

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Humanitarian operations are also hampered by sanctions on North Korea’s banking sector that make it hard for money to be disbursed to relevant programs.

“Although [UN] Security Council sanctions clearly exempt humanitarian activities, life-saving programmes continue to face serious challenges and delays,” Mishra wrote. “While unintended consequences of sanctions persist, these delays have a real and tangible impact on the aid that we are able to provide to people who desperately need it.”

Extreme weather and storms in recent years have also harmed the country’s agricultural sector. For example, food production dropped by 9% last year because of heat waves and a typhoon. Outdated equipment and infrastructure further limit the ability of farmers to produce food.

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The report notes that limited access to health care, water, and sanitation greatly worsen the country’s nutrition crisis.

Although progress has been made in recent years to reduce childhood stunting, regional disparities persist. For example, 10% of the children in Pyongyang province, which includes the capital city Pyongyang, experience stunting, compared to 32% of children in the more rural Ryanggang Province.  

To prevent stunting rates from increasing, humanitarian aid programs need immediate support.

“We must collectively fulfill our commitment under the Sustainable Development Goals to ‘leave no one behind,’” Mishra writes.