U.N. relief coordinator Jan Egeland expressed concern Friday that North Korea may be premature in deciding not to accept shipments of humanitarian aid after the end of this year. "Our whole purpose is to help people in need. We're very concerned because we think it is too soon and too abrupt," he said.
Mr. Egeland's comment came two days after North Korea's Deputy Foreign Minister Choe Su Hon informed Secretary General Kofi Annan that his country no longer wants international humanitarian aid. He said a good harvest had led to larger food supplies.
Mr. Egeland said Friday he hopes to persuade North Korean officials to change their minds. He said the U.N.-run World Food Program has helped the Pyongyang government make big progress in battling malnutrition providing food to 6.5 million of the country's 23 million residents. Even so, Mr. Egeland noted poor nutrition remains a severe problem, especially among North Korean children.
"Forty-percent of the children are stunted, lower height for the age for what is normal, and 20 percent are still underweight. And I think the reason we made such a big progress is not only that the government has made progress in terms of protection of food in North Korea, which we welcome and congratulate the government on, but also that we've had a very successful, very effective humanitarian program," he said.
Mr. Egeland said his heart goes out to North Korean children and said he was asking other governments to join in the appeal to Pyongyang to let aid agencies continue to help.