North Korean infants are 11 times more likely to die during their first year of life than those in South Korea, according to UNICEF's State of the World's Children 2004 report.
Fifty-five out of every 1,000 North Korean infants die, compared with only five of out 1,000 in South Korea, the report said.
Pregnancy and childbirth are also far riskier North of the Demilitarized Zone, the report said. Some 70 of every 100,000 pregnant women die in North Korea, or roughly 3.5 times as many as in South Korea.
A group of United Nations agencies last month announced a new appeal for U.S. $221 million in international aid for North Korea to address food and health care shortages that a U.N. spokesman described as a "chronic emergency" without an end in sight.
Fifteen U.N. agencies and non-governmental organizations launched the appeal Nov. 19 in Geneva, Rick Corsino, director of the World Food Programme (WFP) in North Korea, told a Beijing news conference.
The Rome-based WFP is asking for U.S. $192 million; UNICEF U.S. $12.7 million; the World Health Organization U.S. $7 million; the Food and Agriculture Organization U.S. $3 million; and the U.N. Population Fund U.S. $672,000.
Pierrette Vu Thi, UNICEF's representative in North Korea, said 40 percent of children were chronically malnourished last year compared with 60 percent in 1998.
Some 70,000 children remain malnourished and at risk of dying without medical treatment, she said.
North Korea has received about 8 million tons of food aid since 1995, when the secretive Stalinist regime revealed that its state farm industry had collapsed from decades of mismanagement and the loss of Soviet subsidies.
Spokesmen for several U.N. agencies cited improvements over the last several years in crop production and rates of child malnutrition.
Donations to North Korea failed to meet demand over the last two years, with UNICEF projects underfunded by half, Corsino said. He declined to link the crisis over North Korea's nuclear weapons program to the shortfall.
Critics complain that sending any aid to North Korea props up the regime and feeds mainly the military, which comprises 1.14 million people.#####