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80 pct of N. Koreans suffer food shortages: WFP

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

SEOUL, Aug. 8 (Yonhap) -- Eight out of 10 North Korean people are suffering from food shortages this year, with nearly 20 percent of children younger than five severely malnourished, a report by the U.N. food body has said.

According to the quarterly report the World Food Program (WFP) published on its assistance project for the communist country, 81 percent out of 115 households there were found to be in the category of "poor food consumption" or fall in the category between having adequate and poor food consumption in the second quarter of this year.

Of the surveyed, 76 percent coped with the crisis either by relying on support from others or eating cheaper food. Some 14 percent reduced their portions with 3 percent skipping meals, the report showed.

Thanks to Pyongyang's increased food rations and the international organization's aid, things have improved from a year earlier when 87 percent of the people surveyed suffered from shortages, according to the report.

The WFP's earlier report showed that the North Korean government is providing more food rations to its people in 2013 than the previous year despite a drop in overseas aid. In the communist country, 66 percent of the total population, or about 16 million people, receive state food rations.

The agency, however, said the situation "remains fragile," with the frequency of protein consumption "very low and unlikely meeting requirements."

The WFP also said its visit to 120 pediatric hospitals found that 17 percent of the children under the age of five admitted to suffering from acute malnutrition.

Of the children admitted to hospitals, some 88 percent suffered from diarrhea, followed by 82 percent showing symptoms of respiratory infections and 49 percent indigestion, the report showed.

The WFP said it reached 1.46 million beneficiaries each month during the second quarter of the year, distributing a total of 10,489 metric tons of food. It also conducted 764 rounds of field visits to ensure its assistance arrived and was utilized properly.

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