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DPR of Korea: despite political improvements, relief aid still critical, UN says

DPR of Korea: despite political improvements, relief aid still critical, UN says

Recent improvements in the political climate of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea have not yet had a significant impact on the country's humanitarian situation, which is still critical following a prolonged period of economic decline and a series of natural disasters, the United Nations said today.

In an update of the UN aid appeal for the country, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that 1.3 million metric tonnes of food will be needed to help some 8 million people. "The shortage of food affects those who are least able to cope and who are most in need of food -- children, mothers and the elderly," OCHA warns.

According to OCHA, the country's poor health services require international assistance to provide medical support to the population. Water and sanitation utilities are old and poorly maintained, resulting in a rise in cases of diarrhoeal diseases, which cause malnutrition among children. Frequent power cuts in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea affect "all aspects of daily life," while education is threatened by a lack of resources and depleted infrastructure.

In order to meet these urgent needs this year, the appeal seeks $383.9 million, including $362.1 million for food assistance. Money will also be allocated to help the country provide adequate health services, water, sanitation and education to those in need.

Among positive political developments, OCHA mentions last June's Summit Meeting between the leaders of Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea, and subsequent family reunion meetings in Pyongyang and Seoul. In addition, the Republic of Korea agreed to provide the Democratic People's Republic of Korea with food aid credit -- a development which OCHA said "would have been impossible to conceive even a year ago."

While welcoming these developments, OCHA cautions that "this change, as well as other positive political changes during the year, did not have any significant impact on the humanitarian situation." It emphasizes that resolving the humanitarian situation will require a rehabilitation of the country's economy and agricultural sector.