UNICEF: Lack of funding for Democratic People's Republic of Korea endangering children

News and Press Release
Originally published
Briefing Note
Statement made by Ms.Mehr Khan,
UNICEF East Asia and Pacific Regional Director
Beijing, March 11 2003
"I have just completed a one-week visit to DPRK. My purpose was to visit UNICEF programmes and discuss a new three-year (2004-2006) country programme with the Government and other UN partners. UNICEF's new programme will continue humanitarian assistance and help local organisations and institutions address children's needs.

In the course of my visit I travelled to projects in Kangwan province and Kaesong City. I visited baby homes, nurseries, schools and clinics.

The situation of children has improved considerably in the DPRK during the last four years. This is largely through international humanitarian assistance. The gains for children we have witnessed over these years include:

  • The doubling of childhood immunization levels from 35 per cent to 75 per cent

  • Providing Vitamin A to 95 per cent of children. Helping to bolster children's immune system and reducing their risk of illness and death.

  • No recent polio cases

  • Significantly improved child nutrition levels. While child malnutrition is still widespread a recently concluded extensive nutrition survey revealed that:
    • wasting or acute malnutrition has nearly halved from 16 per cent in 1998 to 9 per cent.
    • stunting or chronic malnutrition has dropped from 62 per cent in 1998 to 42 per cent.
    • the proportion of children underweight has fallen from 61 per cent in 1998 to 21 per cent.
These are important achievements and show that international humanitarian assistance has made a real difference to women and children in DPRK.

However, there are still some 15 million vulnerable women and children who continue to need external assistance to survive and grow. For example, there are 70,000 children under 7 years old who need hospital-based treatment for malnutrition. The survey also showed that one-third of mothers are malnourished and anaemic.

In order to be well nourished, children need adequate quantities of appropriate food and micronutrients and basic health care. Illness reduces a child's ability to retain and absorb food and results in reduced levels of nutrition. The younger the child the more critical the situation.

The two major causes of child deaths in DPRK are diarrhoea and pneumonia. DPRK is a highly urbanized country and, in the early 1990s, people had good access to clean drinking water and sanitation. These facilities are now rapidly breaking down and are in desperate need of overhaul and repair. This gives rise to considerable concern for children's health.

Since early this year, there has been a dramatic drop in levels of funding available for humanitarian assistance to DPRK. The WFP is in urgent need of funding to meet its food requirements. Some contributions have been authorized recently. But there is still a likely shortfall of 250,000 tonnes of food, which will occur mid-year, and for which there is nothing in the pipeline.

UNICEF delivers basic life-sustaining services in health and nutrition including hospital-based treatment for severely malnourished children. It also supports critical programmes such as malnutrition reduction, immunization, water and environmental sanitation and basic education in remote areas.

We have appealed for $12 million in emergency assistance for 2003 and so far have received under $500,000. Unless funds are provided urgently, we will have to stop our work in these critical areas. For example, health clinics only have stocks of essential medicines for treatment of children's illnesses until April. Paediatric hospitals and baby homes only have stocks of high energy therapeutic milk for the treatment of severe malnutrition until May. Funding for vaccines from January to April this year is needed soonest to initiate procurements.

Essential medicines, vaccines and food are all urgently needed. If we don't see new contributions to the UN to allow it to carry out its critical work, we could easily see malnutrition rates go up again very rapidly."