Child Malnutrition in North Korea
One in five children
in North Korea is malnourished. The United Nations claims that 200,000 children in this country are suffering from acute malnutrition.

Child malnutrition in North Korea is a growing concern of various humanitarian organizations. Aid programs find trouble reaching the country due to trade restrictions and only a few groups are allowed to enter North Korea. Although the percentage of children stunted by malnutrition in North Korea has dropped from 28 percent in 2011 to 20 percent in 2018, children are still facing severe malnutrition and are in need of immediate assistance.

World Food Programme Role in North Korea

A very big problem of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is that it suffers from a drastic food shortage. The World Food Programme (WFP) has stated that a combination of the country’s harsh climate, rocky terrain, lack of farming technology and the recent 2015 drought have all contributed to a significant reduction in harvest.

WFP provides several programs to the country such as food for work program, food for nursing or pregnant women and support of factories that produce fortified meals. However, WFP has recently had trouble finding funding as many donors are unwilling to fund North Korean programs even though the country’s sanctions do not limit aid programs.

UNICEF in North Korea

UNICEF has expressed that there is a dire humanitarian need in North Korea. As of 2017, they had screened 90 percent of children under the age of 5 with severe acute malnutrition in the country and have treated 19,000 of those children.

One of UNICEF’s focuses is nutrition and sanitation interventions, specifically for children and mothers who just got their babies, in order to help combat child malnutrition in North Korea. The organization has stated that it needs $16,5 million to meet all of its goals for the country in 2018. These goals include providing children and pregnant women with nutrition, proper hygiene and safe drinking water. UNICEF is not the only group focused on the needs of new mothers and children.

First Health Steps

First Health Steps Canada is another on-ground organization attempting to battle child malnutrition in North Korea. The group mainly focuses on children, pregnant women and nursing mothers. They have two programs that are called Soymilk and Sprinkles that are used to provide necessary nutrition to young children all over North Korea.

Through the Soymilk program, they deliver soybeans to North Korea that are then turned into soymilk and delivered to daycares and elementary schools. Their Sprinkles program delivers micro-nutrient packs to pregnant women, nursing mothers and young children. The group also works on the ground and has visited the Yonsa county after Typhoon Lionrock to ensure that building supplies and food have been delivered. First Steps has provided an invaluable aid to the food insecure people of North Korea.

Organizations such as UNICEF, First Steps and the World Food Programme are attempting to find solutions to the dire need of food security and child nutrition in North Korea. Although a lot of progress has been made in the last decades, child malnutrition in North Korea is still a high priority issue.

Although it seems bleak, there is hope since more aid workers and groups are finding it easier to access the country. Officials of the country have also been cited as wanting to focus more effort on the economic stability of the country which could ensure the health of their people. As more focus is being put on humanitarian needs and less on political tensions, food security in North Korea is certainly going to improve in the upcoming period.

– Olivia Halliburton
Photo: Flickr

suffering in North KoreaThe late 20th-century famine in North Korea caused by drought, flooding and lack of government intervention left around two million Koreans dead. In the 21st century, thousands of children are suffering in North Korea due to malnutrition and the country is still facing difficulties in keeping up with its more developed counterparts.

Suffering in North Korea

North Korea is disconnected in many ways from our global world. However, reports released in June from the government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea will help humanitarian aid agencies better navigate their aid to the East Asian nation. The Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey used data from 8,500 households in North Korea last year to assess the lives of children and women. According to the troubling report, nearly 20 percent of children are stunted and 10 percent suffer from diarrhea — a condition usually associated with contaminated water.

Humanitarian Aid Organizations and North Korea

Fortunately, aid organizations are already working to mitigate suffering in North Korea. UNICEF trains doctors and health workers to improve breastfeeding rates and maternal health while UNICEF and WHO are supporting immunization programs.

Additionally, according to the WHO Country Cooperation Strategy for the DPR of Korea, improvements are being seen in the nation regarding women’s health and management of severe illnesses. The five priorities of the strategy are: the challenges of noncommunicable diseases and their modifiable risk factors; address women’s and children’s health to reduce vulnerability and promote disaster risk reduction; communicable diseases; strengthening health systems; and ensuring the country presence of WHO to support sustainable national health development. WHO also works closely with United Nations Strategic Framework, United Nations Populations Fund, European Union-funded nongovernmental organizations and The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

The organizations can draw important conclusions from new data. For example, new information substantiates that rural areas are struggling greatly compared to their urban counterparts, that have more wealth and get better healthcare. In the capital city, Pyongyang, only 10 percent of the children are affected by stunting while in Ryanggang Province it is over 30 percent.

While reports are mostly positive, almost one in five youths are experiencing chronic or recurrent malnutrition. This number is down from nearly one in three just six years ago.

Steps to Alleviate Suffering in North Korea

In light of the new information, international aid organizers are emphasizing the need for increased assistance in North Korea. According to UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, Shanelle Hall, “Humanitarian assistance is making a difference in the lives of women and children across the country.”

Karin Hulshof, UNICEF Regional Director for East Asia and the Pacific, said that the new data will help the organization to better direct their efforts to maximize aid — noting that accurate information is the “foundation” of humanitarian aid.

Humanitarian aid organizations are still facing hurdles. The World Food Programme’s 2018 appeal for $52 million to control the dire situation in Korea is so far only 19.2 percent funded. As North Korea is facing strict sanctions from governments across the world, humanitarian aid for food — which is largely exempt from sanctions — is significant. The largest sources of funding came from stock transfers and the Swiss and Canadian governments.


Food insecurity affects millions worldwide and its reduction requires systematic effort on behalf of governments, individuals and humanitarian aid organizations. With a per capita GDP of $1,700 and one of the weakest economies in the world, assistance from other developed nations is required to mitigate suffering in North Korea.

– Isabel Bysiewicz
Photo: Flickr