The United Nations’ food agency plans to extend aid to North Korea amid reports that the communist country is facing food shortages next year.
Damian Kean, a regional spokesperson for the World Food Program (WFP), told VOA this week the agency plans to extend the current food aid program for another six months.
“This current program cycle is supposed to be finished this December. What we decided to do is to extend the program until the middle of next year,” said Kean.
He added that the agency needs an additional $23.3 million to fund the extension.
The WFP is conducting an assessment of the nutritional status of North Koreans to determine if further assistance is needed after June of next year, Kean said.
The agency launched a two-year food aid program in July 2013, and it had already extended the program through the end of this year.
According to Kean, the food shortages are affecting the most vulnerable groups, including young children and pregnant women. More than 30 percent of North Korean children under five are experiencing stunted growth because of malnutrition, and more than a third of pregnant women and breastfeeding women are suffering from anemia.
Last month, the Food and Agriculture Organization warned North Korea’s food shortages could worsen next year in its latest report on the country’s food situation. The agency predicted the country’s food production would drop more than 10 percent this year because of a long drought and heavy rains.
The WFP has provided more than 3,800 tons of food this year to some 733,000 North Korean children and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Kean said the U.N. aid is reaching only half of the intended recipients because of a lack of funds.
Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report, which was produced in collaboration with the VOA Korean service.