UNITED NATIONS — A predicted rainfall shortage in some parts of North Korea, combined with reduced food aid this year, will have an "alarming" effect on the nutrition of the nation's young children and pregnant and lactating women, the U.N. Secretary-General warned Friday.
Ban Ki-moon told U.N. member nations in a report on North Korea's human rights situation that rainfall in some areas of the country is expected to be 18 percent lower this year than in 2009, despite torrential downpours and flooding that hit the country's west on Aug. 20.
U.N. agencies providing humanitarian assistance in the country are also increasingly faced with critical funding shortages, and have managed to provide only 20 percent of the $492 million required in 2009, he said. "This has led to a downsizing of operations, with several areas and some vulnerable groups no longer receiving international assistance," Ban's report said.
The Secretary-General wrote that reports from inside the country indicate that North Koreans continue to suffer from chronic food security, high malnutrition and severe economic problems.
While serious concerns remain about political and civil rights in the insular nation, "I urge the international community not to constrain humanitarian aid on the basis of political and security concerns," Ban wrote.
He also urged nations to "encourage improvements in the human rights situation" inside North Korea.
The Secretary-General said the North Korean government also had the responsibility "to take immediate steps to ensure the enjoyment of the right to food, water, sanitation and health, and to allocate greater budgetary resources to that end."
"Such persistent problems as widespread food shortages, a health care system in decline, lack of access to safe drinking water and deterioration in the quality of education are seriously hampering the fulfillment of basic human rights," Ban wrote.
Ban said broad restrictions on civil and political rights, such as freedom of thought, religion, and expression continue to be imposed by the North Korean government on its citizens. "The government's control over the flow of information is strict and pervasive," his report said.
North Koreans found listening to broadcasts or disseminating information seen as opposing the government can be sentenced to up to two years in a "labor training camp," or up to five years of "corrective labor" for more serious cases, it said.
The report said that although independent verification is impossible, there continue to be reports of public executions, political prisoners held under harsh conditions, and the use of torture, forced labor, and ill treatment of refugees or asylum-seekers repatriated from abroad.
Ban said that North Korea has rejected offers of technical assistance by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, and he urged the government to reconsider its position.