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[Newsmaker] UNICEF to spend $22.7 million on North Korean aid in 2021

UNICEF will direct $22.7 million in 2021 to aid projects in North Korea, where socioeconomic conditions are thought to be worsening due to the coronavirus pandemic, a report showed Friday.

According to the Humanitarian Action for Children 2021-Democratic People’s Republic of Korea report released Wednesday, UNICEF calculated it would need a greater amount than this year’s $19.5 million initial budget for North Korea when physical access is again possible next year.

UNICEF originally set this year’s budget for North Korea at $19.5 million in January but hiked the amount by $3 million three months later after assessing the need for greater support in the health sector.

The needs have become greater as North Korea experienced the indirect impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the aftermath of banking sanctions and torrential rain in early August, which was followed by three large-scale typhoons in the next two weeks.

The typhoons significantly damaged the southern and eastern provinces of North Korea -- the “bread basket” for the country -- and led to more people there suffering from malnutrition and in need of treatment.

UNICEF calculates that around 140,000 children under 5 years of age are suffering from malnutrition and that 8.7 million people are in need of basic health services. The aid organization also believes that 8.2 million people in North Korea do not have access to safe water.

The aid organization seeks to help out 1.6 million children and 7.2 million adults in North Korea with its next year’s budget.

UNICEF said it would provide supplementary nutrition for 1.6 million children in North Korea while providing treatment for 95,000 children suffering from malnutrition.

It will also support diarrhea treatment for 600,000 women and children as well as emergency medical care for children to be born from more than 90,000 pregnant women. The organization also plans to support medicine for 6 million North Koreans and protective equipment for 20,000 medical workers.

“The impacts of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) restrictions, including lockdowns and reduced access to social services, have exacerbated the situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” the report said.

“However, in the absence of field monitoring, it has been difficult to fully assess the situation.”

UNICEF said it has been unable to conduct field monitoring and data reporting this year due to a reduction in the number of international staff in the country. The Nampo seaport has also not been in operation since the end of July, which significantly increased operational costs.

The UNICEF has only three staff in Pyongyang, down from 10 in the early stages of the pandemic.

By Ko Jun-tae (