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North Korean school girls stop at a kiosk selling flowers on Tuesday, July 18, 2017, in Pyongyang, North Korea.
Wong Maye-E/AP
NewsFood & Hunger

1 in 5 North Korean Children Are Malnourished: UN Relief Chief

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One in five children in North Korea are malnourished and lack access to food and clean water, according to the most senior United Nations (UN) humanitarian currently touring the nation, reports the Guardian.

Mark Lowcock, the under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs at the UN, made the statements following his first day touring the country on an awareness campaign, according to the report. It’s the first visit by a UN to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea since 2011.

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“One of the things we’ve seen is very clear evidence of humanitarian need here,” Lowcock said in a video posted to the UN website and his official Twitter account earlier this week. “More than half the children in rural areas, including the places we’ve been, have no clean water, contaminated water sources.”

In addition to a lack of adequate nutrition and clean water, a need for basic medical supplies was also observed on the tour. On a visit to a local hospital, Lowcock reported seeing 140 patients afflicted with tuberculosis with only enough medicine to attend to 40 people.

Despite UN sanctions placed on North Korea as punishment for developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, humanitarian aid is still being sent to the nation. Shipments have been delayed, however, due to current trade restrictions, noted the report.

The UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs told VOA News that the UN is trying to raise $111 million in 2018 to meet North Korea’s health, water, and food security needs for approximately 6 million people.

Read More: Beyond the Handshake: What Life Is Really Like in North Korea

Despite the dire circumstances, the North Korean government has so far declined offers to relinquish its nuclear weapons program in exchange for increased aid and financial investment to spark economic growth, noted the Guardian. Officials there have instead been focused on security guarantees, the report said.

“Ultimately, for any country, what’s needed to deal with problems like malnutrition, and the availability of drugs in the health system, and clean water and sanitation … is economic development,” Lowcock said in an interview with VOA News. “Development needs to be faster and inclusive of everybody. In the meantime, we do think it’s important that the UN agencies are in a position to continue to reduce suffering and save lives.”

Lowcock estimated that the UN currently has 10% of what it needs in order to adequately save lives and provide humanitarian relief in North Korea in 2018.