North Korea has asked for help on food shortages

Washington has been demanding that North Korea give up a nuclear weapons program that threatens the United States

Washington has been demanding that North Korea give up a nuclear weapons program that threatens the United States

With another summit with the US looming, North Korea this week claimed that sanctions and recent natural disasters have significantly decreased the country's food supply amid pleas for help from global organizations.

UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric said February 21 that food production figures provided by North Korea show "there is a food gap of about 1.4 million tons expected for 2019, and that's crops including rice, wheat, potato and soybeans".

"The government has requested assistance from worldwide humanitarian organisations present in the country to address the impact of the food security situation", said United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

Dujarric said that several United Nations agencies were in talks with North Korea "to take early action in order to address humanitarian needs".

Washington has been demanding from Pyongyang that it give up its nuclear weapons programme that threatens the United States, while the regime has been seeking lifting of punishing sanctions, a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean war and security guarantees.

According to the memo seen by Reuters on Thursday, North Korea's food production past year was 4.951 million tons, 503,000 tons down on 2017. It estimates that 40% of people in the country are undernourished. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs' Financial Tracking Service noted that humanitarian aid to North Korea has dropped from $117.8 million to $17.1 million in 2018. It also cited "the sanctions regime restricting the delivery of farming materials" as a contributing factor to the food shortage, acknowledging trade sanctions due to North Korea's nuclear programming.

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According to United Nations figures, at least 10.5 million North Koreans, or 41 percent of its population, "are in need of food aid".

File image of cultivators working in a field just outside Pyongyang in North Korea.

The UN Security Council has been imposing sanctions on North Korea since 2006 in a bid to cap funding for Pyongyang's nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

"While Security Council sanctions clearly exempt humanitarian activities, there have been unintended consequences on humanitarian operations", Dujarric said.

"The memo seems like a message saying 'although United Nations sanctions do not affect people's lives directly, they affect the whole economy and people's livelihoods are getting worse".

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