|North Korean kids are seen during a celebration marking Children's Day in Taesongsan Park, Pyongyang, June 1, 2019. TASS-Yonhap|
North Korea on Tuesday slammed a recent U.N. report on child malnutrition in the country as a "sheer lie," saying it will need to review whether humanitarian assistance can "truly help us."
The director of the Research Institute for Nutrition Care of Children from the North's health ministry made the statement in response to the panel of experts report that close to 100,000 kindergarten-aged children in the North lack access to fortified foods due to border restrictions over the coronavirus pandemic.
"I, as a person responsible for nutrition care of the children in our country, categorically reject this information, affirming that it, a sheer lie, is utterly baseless," the director said in the statement released by the official Korean Central News Agency.
"In my opinion, it is necessary to seriously examine whether 'humanitarian cooperation' under the signboard of UN and NGOs would truly help us and to take resolute countermeasures against the entity and organizations going about in cahoots with the hostile forces," he said.
The director added that the nutritional health of children is a "top priority" for the North though it is "in hardship and everything is insufficient."
He then criticized the panel of experts for "distorting the situation" to give the impression that the North is suffering from serious malnutrition of children, slamming it as a "black-hearted act of hostility to tarnish the image of our country."
Although he did not clarify what "countermeasures" the North will take, observers say it is possible that Pyongyang will not accept humanitarian aid activities and stop NGOs from entering the country.
In a survey of NGOs in the recent U.N. report, several organizations said they experienced difficulties in delivering humanitarian assistance to North Koreans, citing border controls and travel restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"Due to COVID-19 related restrictions, the organization assesses ... that approximately 440,000 children and pregnant and lactating women will not receive micronutrients, approximately 95,000 acutely malnourished children will not receive necessary treatment and approximately 101,000 kindergarten-aged children will not receive fortified foods," one organization said in the report.
North Korea has claimed to be coronavirus-free but has maintained tight border controls since early last year to ward off an outbreak of the highly contagious disease on its soil. (Yonhap)