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South Korea to provide $8 mn humanitarian aid to North Korea

South Korea on Friday said it would provide USD eight million as humanitarian aid to help North Korea's malnourished children and pregnant women, as the communist country faces severe drought and a food crisis caused by its worst harvest in decades.

"The South Korea government has decided to first provide funds for international organisation projects (eight million dollars) including World Food Program's (WFP) nutrition support program for North Korean children and pregnant women and UNICEF's maternal and child health care project," the country's Unification Ministry said in a statement.

"The government, while garnering public opinion on food aid to North Korea, will review specific options for aid including direct government support and funding international organisations," the statement said.

South Korea has, however, made it clear that it would not regard the current stalemate in talks over the North's nuclear programme as a reason to deny the aid, the ministry said.

The sum of money represents funds that the South had originally planned to donate in 2017, through the WFP and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

But the donation was shelved after North Korea launched a ballistic missile over Japan that year and Shinzo Abe, Japan's leader, argued for delaying it, The New York Times reported.

The WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organisation announced this month that about 10 million North Koreans, or nearly 40 per cent of the North's population, were facing "severe food shortages."

On Wednesday, Pyongyang said it was experiencing its worst drought in 37 years, raising fears that crops due to be harvested next month, like wheat and barley, will also suffer.

The United Nations has also raised concern over starvation cases in North Korea which may likely be reported in the coming months "if no proper and urgent humanitarian actions are taken."

President Moon Jae-in's government hopes good-will gestures like the aid package will help persuade North Korea to return to dialogue with the United States. It has said that President Trump supports the idea of the South providing humanitarian aid.

The UN has imposed a series of tough sanctions on the North over its nuclear program since 2016, which have deprived the country of important sources of income, as well as undercutting its ability to import food.

The UN sanctions do not prohibit humanitarian aid to the North. But as its nuclear and missile work has escalated in recent years, international relief agencies have been unable to collect substantial donations for chronically malnourished children and nursing mothers in North Korea.