Western News Crew Views Malnourished Orphans in North Korea

Posted October 6th, 2011 at 6:25 am (UTC-5)
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A Western television news crew has returned from a rare visit to key farm regions in North Korea with disturbing pictures of malnourished children — the latest evidence of what the United Nations says is a severe food crisis in the country.

The video was shot by reporters from Reuters news agency who were invited into the country. The agency says the visit to a critical farming province was unprecedented — but also closely controlled.

Many of the children photographed were orphans, and Reuters says some were so malnourished that they need hospital treatment.

Pediatrician Kim Chol Jun told the agency through an interpreter that a harsh winter and a summer of widespread flooding have contributed to the problem.

Pak Su Dong, the manager of a cooperative farm, said the region's maize crop was damaged by two months of heavy rain in July and August.

He said the farm expects to harvest only about 15 percent of what it had planned.

The video comes as North Korea tries to convince a skeptical world it really does need international help.

United Nations teams that visited the country say about one-quarter of the population, or 6 million people, are in urgent need of food aid.

But world governments have contributed less than 30 percent of what the United Nations is seeking, as countries including the United States demand assurances that any aid will not be redirected to the military or government officials.

Some South Korean officials believe the North wants to stockpile food for a major celebration planned next year. The South's unification minister, Yu Woo-ik, was quoted telling a parliamentary panel Thursday he does not think the North's food problem is very serious.

That contrasts with World Food Program official Marcus Prior, who told Reuters that food rations in North Korea are dangerously low.