North Koreans want to tackle food security and economy in 2012

02/01/2012 - Since the December 17th death of the country's late leader, Kim Jong Il, North Koreans have called for action on food security and standards of living.
North Koreans have named solving food and power shortages among its major concerns for 2012.
 
After the death of Kim Jong Il on December 17th, the late leader’s son, Kim Jong Un, inherited control of the country. Kim Jon Il ruled the country for 17 years.
 
“The food problem is a burning issue in building a thriving country,” said the state-run Central News Agency in its New Year editorial.
 
It is estimated that more than a third of North Korean children are suffering from malnutrition and stunting. Major food aid donors have cut their contributions to the country over the past two years with political pressure applied to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons programme, Bloomberg reports.
 
In November of last year, The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that it received only $4.6 million of a $20.4 million emergency response appeal, and that other agencies operating in the country faced similar shortfalls.
 
“If the funding does not arrive and we are unable to keep up our nutrition programmes to treat those children who are severely malnourished, these children will suffer irreversible consequences on their growth and development capacity,” said in-country, Bijaya Rajbhandari, at the time.
 
“We must continue to address the poor public nutrition situation in [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea)] in combination with adequate health, water, sanitation and hygiene interventions which are also underlying factors to the malnutrition situation,” he added.
 
The AP reports that despite testing two atomic devices in 2006, North Korea wants to return to the negotiating table after stalled talks on halting its nuclear weapons programme in return for aid. The USA and South Korea, however, insist that the country demonstrate action on past nuclear disarmament commitments before negotiations (which involve both Koreas, the US, China, Russia and Japan) recommence.
 
A joint statement by the Worker’s Party central committee and the Central Military Commission urged the country to take a “decisive turn in the drive to build the country into an economic giant and improve the people’s standard of living.”
 
Besides children, other vulnerable groups are pregnant women and nursing mothers, as well as other segments of society needing ongoing medical care. Maternal malnutrition has been a major issue, with about one-in-four women aged 15-49 malnourished.
 
Non-governmental organizations and UN agencies in North Korea last year demonstrated the state of acute malnutrition and lack of clean water among children in hospitals, orphanages and schools—evidenced by thinness, discolored hair and skin ailments.
 
Since famine killed two million people in the 1990s, much of the population has been dependent on outside aid. The UN expects three million people in the country to need food assistance in 2012.
 
The North’s economy has shrunk in recent years and is about one-fortieth of South Korea’s, reports Bloomberg. It’s 2010 gross domestic product was $26.5 billion—higher than Tanzania’s $23.1 billion and lower than Jordan’s $27.6 billion.