More aid to North needed: Unicef

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More aid to North needed: Unicef

Health conditions of North Koreans, worsened by a recent flood disaster, require continuous support from South Korea, said the head of Unicef’s Pyongyang office.

In an interview on Monday in Seoul, Bijaya Gopal Rajbhandari, 54, Unicef country representative for North Korea, welcomed Seoul’s new shipment of aid to North Korea but added that further attention is needed to strengthen the current health-care system in the North.

“We are glad that the support is going from the ROK [Republic of Korea] to the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea]. They are very welcome steps,” he said. “But at the same time, we would like to see the ROK community continuously support the children and women in the DPRK.”

The worst flooding in three years hit North Korea last month, worsening already tough living conditions in the isolated country. According to a report drafted by a United Nations assessment team that travelled to the flood-affected Sinuiju area near the border with China Aug. 26-27, the flood damaged or destroyed 7,100 homes, affecting 23,651 people from 5,943 families. Among them, 1,852 were children.

The state-controlled Red Cross of South Korea announced Monday in reaction to the floods that it will provide 10 billion won ($8.6 million) worth of aid, including 5,000 tons of rice, for those in the North affected by the floods.

That signaled an easing of Seoul’s sanctions on North Korea since the sinking of a South Korean naval ship in March, which the South blames on the North. The punitive measures, enacted May 24, stopped almost all aid from Seoul to Pyongyang.

Gyeonggi Province also announced on Tuesday it will provide 300 tons of wheat to Kaesong, a North Korean city bordering Gyeonggi that is also reeling from flooding.

“The support of the ROK has benefitted many children and women,” Rajbhandari said. “The support the ROK provides to Unicef mainly for health, nutrition, water supplies and school rehabilitation should be continued.”

Flooding is only one challenge facing the North.

A report posted on the Unicef Web site showed that a third of mothers in North Korea are malnourished and anemic, and that the rate has not improved since 2002. The report also said contaminated water and poor hygiene practices have caused one in five North Korean children under the age of 2 to suffer from diseases such as diarrhea.

Rajbhandari said malnutrition among North Korean children also remains high.

“Any investment in children produces much better social dividends,” he said.

Originally from Nepal, Rajbhandari began his two-year term in December 2009. He worked with Unicef for more than 30 years in Africa, Central Asia, Southeast Asia and India. The Pyongyang office of Unicef was established in August 1997.

By Moon Gwang-lip []

Bijaya Gopal Rajbhandari
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