By Frank Jack Daniel
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - Hunger in Pakistan is at emergency levels after years of conflict and floods, but funding has dwindled as new crises such as Syria grab donors' attention, the United Nations food aid chief said on Sunday.
Fighting in tribal areas bordering Afghanistan compounded problems caused by three consecutive years of floods that destroyed crops and forced millions of people to temporarily abandon their homes.
Although most have now returned, about half of Pakistan's population still does not have secure access to enough food, up from a little over a third a decade ago, the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) said. Fifteen percent of children are severely malnourished, and some 40 percent suffer from stunted growth.
"This is an emergency situation, both from the food security side as well as from the malnutrition side," WFP chief Ertharin Cousin told Reuters. "We need to raise the alarm."
At a center for treating acute malnutrition in Pakistan's Swat Valley, visited by Cousin on Sunday, a young mother called Zainab clutched her underweight 2-month-old baby and waited for a high-nutrition food ration.
"When the area was evacuated, we left our cattle and our homes, when we came back our cattle were dead and our homes were destroyed," said Zainab, who wore a black burqa.
There is growing concern that international donors will lose interest in the unstable border areas after the withdrawal next year of U.S.-led foreign forces from Afghanistan.
Already, Cousin said, the rising cost of the refugee crisis in Syria meant it was harder to attract funds to Pakistan.
WFP's Syria-related operations currently cost $26 million a week, and are forecast to rise as high as $42 million a week by the end of the year, putting a strain on Western donors.
North Korea is even worse hit by funding shortages, Cousin said, partly due to a drop in donations noticed at the beginning of this year, when Pyongyang threatened to launch a nuclear attack on the United States.
"We are significantly under-funded in DPRK going into this lean season, and we are very concerned about what that means," said Cousin, who called off a visit to North Korea during the tensions in March. She said she still planned to visit.
(This story corrects the cost of Syrian operation in the ninth paragraph after WFP clarification)
(Reporting By Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)