For the first time in two years, UN humanitarian agencies have been
granted access to two isolated provinces in North Korea. A mission,
led by the UN Children's Fund, is leaving the North Korean capital
Pyongyang Saturday for the North Eastern provinces of North Hamgyong
and Ryanggang. It will assess the critical food and health needs of
the people. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.
areas have been off-limits to international aid agencies since the end
of 2006. The UN Children's Fund had been active in the region since
1999, providing critical support and supplies for basic health,
nutrition and water supply services.
Veronique Taveau, tells VOA the agency's country team has been
negotiating with the government to reassume humanitarian access to
these two remote provinces since early 2007.
"We know that the
situation in those two provinces for children is quite bad, so that is
why it is very important for us to go there to be able to reach the
most vulnerable children and to assess the situation," she said.
the next 11 days, Taveau says the 10-member team will visit hospitals,
health facilities and institutions for children in county towns and
villages. She says the experts will finalize arrangements to train
doctors and caregivers in the treatment of malnutrition and monitor the
use of supplies.
The World Food Program has just completed an
assessment on food security, which shows there are a large number of
malnourished children in the two remote North Eastern provinces, both
badly affected by last year's floods.
Taveau says surveys conducted a few years ago indicate high levels of malnutrition among children.
we know is that 37 percent of children below the age of five are
already malnourished and that is a very, very high number," she added.
"What we also know is that mortality rates for children, for babies in
North Korea is 55 for 1,000 births. So, it is really a very high
rate. So, that is why we are very worried and concerned about the
UNICEF says it is urgent to reach vulnerable
children quickly with food, basic health and nutrition services and to
ensure that severely malnourished children get the treatment needed to
save their lives.
On Friday, UNICEF trucks loaded with
nutritional supplies and medicines left Pyongyang for the North Eastern
Provinces. The arduous journey over mountainous roads is expected to
take four days.
The relief supplies include therapeutic milk and
food for severely malnourished children as well as enough essential
medicines to treat nearly 400,000 people over the next three months.