The World Food Programme says millions of youngsters face acute malnutrition, as North Korea’s leaders celebrate Foundation Day with a massive military parade.
Footage released by the UN food agency of emaciated children in orphanages and hospitals made a stark contrast to the orchestrated celebrations led by Kim Jong Il and his son to mark the 63rd anniversary of the founding of the communist state.
The Rome-based agency warned that a third of all children in North Korea now face acute malnutrition and said the number of severely malnourished children being hospitalised is rising rapidly after torrential rain and flooding destroyed crops and homes.
It said it has so far been able to reach far fewer than half the 3.5m million North Koreans it hoped to feed, and had concerns that the emergency operation is only 30 per cent funded.
Although damage to farmland from recent flooding does not seem too widespread, officials say it is too early to tell what the full impact will be on food production among chronically hungry North Koreans.
Kim, 69, and his presumed heir Kim Jong-un watched as a massive military parade was held in the capital Pyongyang as part of the National Day festivities.
State television showed goose-stepping troops carrying a large portrait of the country’s late founder Kim Il Sung as they marched past.
The Vice-Chairman of the National Defence Commission, Kim Yong Chun, addressed the crowds, saying: “If the rivals attack even a bit of our sacred dignity and our sovereignty, all our people will grab their rifles, the nation will show the power of the fortified country.”
Senior communist party and state officials watched as children performed a gymnastics routine of cartwheels, flips and splits in bright costumes.
Crowds of cheering onlookers released red balloons, waved pink artificial flowers and chanted their leader’s name at the elaborately stage-managed event.
Doctors treat malnourished children in South Hwanghae Province and Chongdan County, North Korea as Foundation Day celebrations take place in the capital Pyongyang.
Next year’s “Arirang” celebrations are likely to be even more spectacular, as they coincide with the 100th anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birth.
Kim Jong Il, who inherited the country from his father Kim Il Sung, is now trying to pass his power on to his third son.
Analysts say Kim Jong-un will probably maintain the same militaristic policies as his father, and continue to pursue the reclusive state’s nuclear and missile-building programmes.
But the older Kim recently told his neighbour and ally China that he is willing to return to stalled nuclear talks “without precondition”, saying he was committed to the aim of a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.
Across the border in South Korea, defectors from the North marked Foundation Day by launching huge balloons into their homeland containing cash and leaflets denouncing the communist regime.