DPR of Korea: UN fears gains in child nutrition could be lost

DPR of Korea: UN fears gains in child nutrition could be lost

Though child malnutrition in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has fallen considerably over the past four years, according to survey findings announced today, United Nations relief agencies said the gains could be lost if humanitarian assistance to the country continues to slacken.

“The crisis is not over. If the UN can’t provide more medicine and food – and quickly – we will see malnutrition rates rise again, undoing much of the progress that has been made,” warned James T. Morris, Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP).

The assessment – the largest of its kind ever to be undertaken in the DPRK – covers both child and maternal nutrition and was carried out last October by the government’s Central Bureau of Statistics and Institute of Child Nutrition, in collaboration with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and WFP.

The two UN agencies said clear positive trends are discernible from the assessment, including the proportion of children underweight, which fell to 21 per cent in 2002 from 61 per cent in 1998, and wasting, or acute malnutrition, which fell to 9 per cent from 16 per cent.

The DPRK Government attributed the improvement in part to the substantial humanitarian assistance provided by the international community in recent years. The exceptionally high levels of malnutrition recorded in 1998 also reflected the famine conditions that prevailed in the DPRK in the mid-1990s.

Despite these improvements, the wasting rates are still “high” and the stunting rates are “very high,” according to World Health Organization criteria. Moreover, the recent slump in external donations for food, medical and other assistance could compromise the gains.

The survey covered children under seven years of age and their mothers, from 6,000 randomly selected households in 10 of the country’s 12 provinces and municipalities. The youngest child from each household was weighed and measured, and the mother’s nutritional condition was assessed.