U.N. calls for US$98 million to help N. Korea

By Lee Chi-dong

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK Aug. 15 (Yonhap) -- The United Nations on Thursday appealed for US$98 million from the international community to help North Koreans in need, saying its humanitarian projects there are drastically underfunded.

Of the overall funding requirement of $150 million for 2013, $98 million is still urgently needed for food and agricultural support, health and nutrition and water and sanitation, according to the global body's team working in North Korea.

"While the overall humanitarian situation has improved slightly over the last 12 months, the structural causes of people's vulnerability persist," U.N. Resident Coordinator Ghulam Isaczai said in an emailed statement. "External assistance continues to play a vital role in safeguarding the lives of millions whose food security, nutritional status and essential health needs would otherwise be seriously compromised."

Around 16 million people of the 24 million population are chronically short on food, his office said.

For cereal alone, the cereal for the 2012-13 marketing year is estimated at 507,000 metric tons, with serious gaps remaining between recommended and actual nutrient intake, widely due also to a lack of dietary diversity, it said.

"Without sustained humanitarian support, the gains made the past 10 years in improving food security and the overall health and nutrition of the most vulnerable -- children, pregnant and nursing mothers, and the elderly -- could be quickly reversed," said Isaczai.

He urged U.N. member states to draw a line between political and humanitarian issues, as efforts to denuclearize North Korea have been stalled for years.

"We hope that donors will respond quickly and generously to allow U.N. agencies to address the humanitarian situation," he said. "Separating humanitarian needs from political issues is a prerequisite for a sustainable improvement in the condition of people."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon supported the funding appeal by the U.N. team operating in North Korea.

"He stresses that humanitarian assistance should not be linked to political or security considerations," Ban's spokesperson said in a press release.

In that regard, it added, Ban, a former South Korean foreign minister, appreciates the decision by the South Korean government to provide humanitarian aid to the North through UNICEF.

The Park Geun-hye administration announced plans last week to offer US$6 million worth of medical goods and nutritional aid to its communist neighbor despite long-running strains in inter-Korean relations.

"He hopes this move will inspire other traditional and potential donors to follow suit," said Ban's spokesperson. "The Secretary-General calls on prospective donors to respond to this serious situation."

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