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UNICEF Appeal for N. Korea Comes Amid Tensions Over Nuclear Test

FILE - The UNICEF logo is pictured on a building in Geneva.
FILE - The UNICEF logo is pictured on a building in Geneva.

The U.N. Children’s Fund is appealing for humanitarian aid for North Korea, amid heightened tensions over Pyongyang’s latest nuclear test.

The U.N. agency is calling for $18 million for this year’s effort to provide assistance for about 6.9 million people, including 1.7 million children, in North Korea.

UNICEF’s plan calls for the agency to put $8.5 million in aid for nutrition, $4.5 million for health, and $5 million for clean water and sanitation.

The plan includes a project to provide treatment to about 25,000 children under age 5 affected by severe acute malnutrition. There has been a 72 percent increase in diarrhea among the children because of a severe drought in the North, according to a new report released by the agency Tuesday.

Humanitarian needs

Last year, North Korea was hit with what it said was “the worst drought in 100 years,” severely damaging the country’s agricultural sector. The report said that in August, the government announced a more than 20 percent reduction in crop production compared with the previous year.

UNICEF is running nearly 150 community-based sites to treat acute malnutrition.

“These lifesaving interventions must be continued in 2016 to complement the already weakened national capacity of health, nutrition and water, sanitation and hygiene services,” the report said.

The appeal from UNICEF comes as North Korea is facing international sanctions over its nuclear test earlier this month. The sanctions are aimed at curbing Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile development. But some aid groups are voicing concerns that the sanctions could hurt legitimate humanitarian work in the country.

Trouble for NGOs

Recently, the U.S. House passed legislation that would put financial pressure on North Korea and the Senate is also considering a bill that seeks to expand sanctions on Pyongyang.

Keith Luse, executive director of the National Committee on North Korea, a nongovernmental organization that promotes U.S.-North Korea relations, said the House bill contains provisions that would make it “increasingly problematic for U.S. NGOs to operate” inside North Korea.

Christian Friends of Korea, a U.S.-based Christian aid group, is making an urgent appeal to its donors to stress the need for continued humanitarian work in North Korea. In a statement released this week, the group called for efforts to ensure that “the final bill will adequately protect the full scope of privately funded humanitarian work” for needy North Koreans.

Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report.