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(Yonhap Interview) UNICEF's deputy chief says N. Korean children seriously malnourished

All Headlines 06:30 May 12, 2010

By Kim Boram

SEOUL, May 12 (Yonhap) -- One out three North Korean children is suffering from malnutrition, but a U.N. agency's efforts to help them is hampered by the country's reclusive nature, the agency's deputy chief said.

"It is serious, in terms of nutrition. Every third child in North Korea is stunted due to bad nutrition," said Hilde Johnson, deputy executive director of the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF), in an interview Tuesday with Yonhap News Agency.

UNICEF has a number of programs operating in North Korea similar to those for developing countries, she said.

"We run programs to help children survive, which is linked to immunization of children and vaccination. We also provide nutrition support to prevent malnutrition of children," she said.

But UNICEF is restricted in alleviating what she called the "very serious" condition resulting from a decades-long food shortage.

"We also try to advocate rights of children, which is not always that easy" in North Korea, Johnson said.

The deputy chief was visiting Seoul for the first time to preside over an annual meeting of UNICEF held on Sunday.

She lauded South Korea, highlighting the fact that it had been a major recipient of UNICEF aid for nearly 50 years, but is now a donor country.

"You are the only country within UNICEF that has gone from being a country program which is receiving, to becoming a national committee which is mobilizing resources from the population to give to UNICEF," she said.

"That transition that you have made is much more speedily than I've seen in any other country," she said.

Johnson appreciated South Korea's plan to increase its official development aid (ODA) to take responsibility as an advanced nation, adding she was "really impressed" when Prime Minister Chung Un-chan said South Korea aims to triple the aid by 2013.

She stressed that international aid must be supported by each nation to actually make progress in developing countries.

"It is about the economy, but equally about political commitment," she said.


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