UNITED NATIONS — The head of the U.N. World Food Program said he plans to visit North Korea, which is facing drought and “a lot of people starving,” and will ask for greater access to the secretive nation.
David Beasley said in an interview with The Associated Press late Monday that “we want to make the case very clearly that innocent children should not starve to death.”
While the WFP already has a team in North Korea, Beasley said the agency is asking the government to give them more access so the U.N. can ensure that those in need are getting assistance.
“We don’t want access for spying,” he said “We want access so we can make sure that people who need the food are getting the food.”
Kim Jong Un’s government has been accused of diverting money from food and other programs to help civilians to the country’s nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programs. Malnutrition is a significant problem in North Korea and many people suffer from chronic malnutrition because of diets lacking in vitamins, minerals, proteins and fats, WFP says.
According to WFP, the U.N. is seeking $52 million for North Korea in 2017, but has received just $15 million. Without an urgent contribution of $10 million, WFP says it may have to suspend assistance in some areas.
“I think the North Korean government understands, as I have made it clear, that Western donors don’t feel comfortable giving, because money that they think should be helping children is being used to build a nuclear program,” Beasley said.
He didn’t say when his visit would take place, responding with a laugh when asked: “Sooner than you think, maybe.”
The U.N. food agency’s work in North Korea aims to provide nutritional support to 650,000 of the most vulnerable pregnant women, new mothers and young children, for whom the risks of malnutrition are most dangerous. Its aid is channeled through nurseries, hospitals and orphanages in 60 counties, in nine of the 11 provinces.
As a result of the funding shortage, WFP had to reduce rations starting in February, so mothers and children receive 66 percent of the standard ration.
Because of chronic malnutrition, 28 percent of children under the age of 5 are stunted, meaning they are too small or short for their age because their bodies have not had the nutrients and protein they need to develop and grow, the agency said.
Beasley urged the international community to show the world there is a way out of “the abyss it seems that we’re in” when it comes to North Korea.
“Maybe the WFP — maybe we’ll be the light in the darkness … (and) help find a way out of this deep, deep dangerous controversy right now,” he said.