The United Nations World Food Program is calling on donor nations to urgently provide food assistance to North Korea. The agency says people in parts of North Korea are experiencing their worst levels of hunger in nearly a decade. Stephanie Ho reports from Beijing.
Jean-Pierre de Margerie is the World Food Program's country director for North Korea. He says hunger is once again a serious problem there.
"We believe that the current food security situation, right now, in many parts of the country, is the worst that it has been since the late 1990's," said de Margerie. "We believe that it is between five and six million Koreans who are in need of food assistance right now."
While speaking to reporters in Beijing, De Margerie said a food security assessment conducted last month shows that the situation in parts of North Korea could deteriorate into what he described as a humanitarian emergency, in the lean season ahead of the Autumn harvest.
"One of my team members came to me and said that some of these households were in tears," he added. "They were asking WFP for support, in the northeast of the country, because they simply didn't have any options."
De Margerie says North Korea's food shortage has worsened this year. Severe floods, last year, were followed by poor harvests.
He is calling on international donors to help raise $20 million. This money would allow WFP to expand its food distribution to more than six million North Koreans - five times the number of people it reaches now.
The agency says Pyongyang has granted it permission to help feed the most vulnerable segment of North Korea's 23 million people.