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Global Health
May 21, 2019

Huge Swath of North Korea Faces the Threat of Hunger

JAMA. 2019;321(19):1861. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.5310

A recent United Nations report lays out a grim scenario in North Korea, formally the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea: An estimated 11 million people—almost 44% of the population—are undernourished and millions lack clean drinking water, access to basic health services, and sanitation.

The threat of hunger looms large in North Korea, according to a recent report.

Kim Kwang Hyon/AP Images

With food production at its lowest level in more than a decade, natural disasters, including droughts, floods, heat waves, and typhoons, have compounded the population’s humanitarian needs. Young children and women who are pregnant or lactating are malnourished because they lack vitamins, minerals, proteins, and fats. About a third of children aged 6 to 23 months don’t have the minimal acceptable diet. In addition, about 39% of the population lacks access to safe drinking water. As a result, diarrhea affects more than 1 in 10 children annually and is a main cause of death.

Although stunting rates have decreased countrywide from 28% in 2012 to 19% in 2017 and infant and child mortality rates have improved, 9 million people still have limited access to quality health care services. Any health gains that have been made can be lost without continued aid and support, the report notes. What’s more, humanitarian agencies in North Korea have scaled back their programs and are severely underfunded. This year, the United Nations humanitarian team in North Korea is calling for $120 million to provide aid to those who are in most acute need—primarily women and children younger than 5 years.