60,000 North Korean children may starve, sanctions slow aid — UNICEF

Children stand besides a railway track in the industrial city of Chongjin on North Korea's northeast coast. (AFP)
Updated 31 January 2018

60,000 North Korean children may starve, sanctions slow aid — UNICEF

GENEVA: An estimated 60,000 children face potential starvation in North Korea, where international sanctions are exacerbating the situation by slowing aid deliveries, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Tuesday.
World powers have imposed growing sanctions on North Korea for its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Last week the United States announced fresh sanctions on nine entities, 16 people and six North Korean ships it accused of helping the weapons programs.
Under United Nations Security Council resolutions, humanitarian supplies or operations are exempt from sanctions, Omar Abdi, UNICEF deputy executive director, said.
“But what happens is that of course the banks, the companies that provide goods or ship goods are very careful. They don’t want to take any risk of later on being associated (with) breaking the sanctions,” Abdi told a news briefing.
“That is what makes it more difficult for us to bring things. So it takes a little bit longer, especially in getting money into the country. But also in shipping goods to DPRK. There are not many shipping lines that operate in that area,” he said, referring to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Sanctions on fuel have been tightened, making it more scarce and expensive, Abdi added.
Reuters, citing three Western European intelligence sources, reported exclusively last week that North Korea shipped coal to Russia last year which was then delivered to South Korea and Japan in a likely violation of UN sanctions.
“We are projecting that at some point during the year 60,000 children will become severely malnourished. This is the malnutrition that potentially can lead to death. It’s protein and calorie malnutrition,” said Manuel Fontaine, director of UNICEF emergency programs worldwide.
“So the trend is worrying, it’s not getting any better.”
In all, 200,000 North Korean children suffer from acute malnutrition, including 60,000 with the most severe form that can be lethal, according to UNICEF.
UNICEF had projected 60,000 children would suffer severe acute malnutrition last year, and reached 39,000 of them with therapeutic feeding, spokesman Christophe Boulierac said.
“Diarrhea related to poor sanitation and hygiene and acute malnutrition remains a leading cause of death among young children,” it said in Tuesday’s appeal to donors that gave no toll.
UNICEF is seeking $16.5 million this year to provide nutrition, health and water to North Koreans but faces “operational challenges” due to the tense political context and “unintended consequences” of sanctions, it said.
It cited “disruptions to banking channels, delays in clearing relief items at entry ports, difficulty securing suppliers and a 160 percent increase in fuel prices.”
“It’s a very close, and tightly monitored intervention which is purely humanitarian in its essence,” Fontaine said.
UNICEF is one of only a few aid agencies with access to the isolated country, which suffered famine in the mid-1990s that killed up to three million people.


Taliban denies hostage death, blames US for prisoner exchange failure

Updated 48 sec ago

Taliban denies hostage death, blames US for prisoner exchange failure

  • Reports of Professor Kevin King’s death began circulating on social media days after a failed prisoner swap deal
  • The US said it supports the Afghan government in its reassessment of conditions for the prisoner exchange

ISLAMABAD: Afghan Taliban on Sunday dismissed reports circulating on social media that one of two abducted foreign professors in their custody, from the Kabul-based American University of Afghanistan, had died due to poor health.
The Taliban quashed reports about the death of American Kevin King, days after a much-publicized prisoners’ swap deal between the Taliban and Afghan government failed to occur.
“These reports (of his death) are incorrect,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, told Arab News via Whatsapp.
Another Taliban spokesperson in Qatar told Arab News that both the professors were alive and that reports of their death were ‘false rumors.’
“The hostages are alive. Reports about the death are false rumors... their assertions are a figment of the imagination,” he said. 
Afghan president Ashraf Ghani had said on Tuesday that his government would release a leader of the Taliban’s Haqqani militant faction and two other commanders in exchange for the two university professors, American King and Australian Timothy Weeks, who have been in Taliban captivity since 2016.
But the prisoner swap, set for Wednesday, was postponed without elaboration and has led to a blame-game between all parties.
The Taliban have blamed the US for the failure of the prisoner exchange, while Afghan presidential spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said the Taliban were to blame for “not honoring” their promise to free the professors. 
There were reports that Taliban officials had been freed and flown to Qatar for the exchange, but had to be brought back and locked up in Bagram prison north of Kabul. 
However, a Taliban spokesperson in Qatar told Arab News that the Taliban prisoners were never brought to Qatar.
A Taliban spokesperson added that King and Weeks had been shifted to a new safe place because the group’s leaders suspected the Americans had “traced the university professors and were preparing to launch a rescue operation, which would be a deviation from the prisoner exchange deal.”
On Sunday, US ambassador to Kabul, John Bass, said on Twitter that the US endorsed the Afghan government’s decision to “reassess” conditions before the prisoner swap.
“We supported President Ghani’s announcement to release three Taliban prisoners to promote peace – and the decision to reassess their pending transfer following the attacks in Logar and Kabul on November 12 and 13,” Bass tweeted.
The Taliban released a video of both professors more than two years ago in June 2017, in which the men called on the Trump administration to enter into a prisoner exchange deal with the militants. They have not been seen since.