By Magdalena Mis
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The United Nations has called for $111 million to fund crucial humanitarian needs this year in North Korea, which it said remains drastically under-funded.
Funding for U.N. agencies in North Korea fell from $300 million in 2004 to less than $50 million in 2014 and the country urgently needs money for food and agriculture, health and nutrition, and water and sanitation programs, the world body said.
"(North) Korea is both a silent and under-funded humanitarian situation," Ghulam Isaczai, U.N. resident coordinator for North Korea, said in a statement released late on Wednesday.
"Protracted and serious needs for millions of people are persistent and require sustained funding."
About 70 percent of North Koreans are food insecure and almost one third of children under five are stunted, the United Nations said in its report on North Korea "Humanitarian needs and priorities 2015", released before the funding appeal.
Many health facilities do not have functioning water systems and seven million people need access to clean water and proper sanitation to prevent malnutrition and reduce cases of diarrhea and other diseases, the United Nations said.
Children in rural areas and those in institutions such as nurseries, kindergartens and orphanages have little access to water and sanitation, it added.
About 25 percent of North Korea's 24.62 million people still have no access to essential health services, including vaccines and basic medical treatment, the United Nations said.
More than 350,000 pregnant women are at risk of common life-threatening conditions such as obstetrics complications because they have no access to essential supplies and services, it said.
FOREIGN AID FEEDS THE PEOPLE
North Korea's food situation has improved since a famine in the 1990s that killed as many as one million people, but the isolated, mountainous nation lacks the farmland, high-quality seeds, fuel and fertilizer needed to feed its people and still relies on foreign aid to do so.
In recent years many international donors have been reluctant to help North Korea because of Pyongyang's restrictions on humanitarian workers and international fears over its nuclear ambitions.
A week ago, German aid agency Welthungerhilfe said its country director had been expelled without explanation in late February, and that another staffer with the agency left in March of his own volition.
North Korea detained the head pastor of one of Canada's largest congregations in February while he was on a regular humanitarian mission.
The U.N. has warned that without continued humanitarian support progress made in North Korea in the past 10 years to improve food security, health and nutrition could be reversed.
"It is vital that donors respond quickly and generously to allow aid agencies to address the humanitarian situation," said Isaczai.
"Humanitarian needs must be kept separate from political issues to be able to ensure minimum living conditions for the most vulnerable, especially women, children and the elderly."
(Reporting By Magdalena Mis; Editing by Tim Pearce)