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UN seeks drought relief for North Korea

Tens of thousands of children in North Korea have been hit by the impact of a devastating drought, UNICEF warns. The UN agency says $18 million (16.6 million euros) worth of foreign aid is required.

Severe drought conditions in four agricultural provinces in the communist north have led to reduced food production and availability of safe drinking water, the UN humanitarian agency for mothers and children said Tuesday.

North Korean state media characterized

last year's drought as the worst in a century.

That claim has been hard to verify due to the isolated country's restrictions on foreign access though

German food charity Welthungerhilfe has confirmed its severity.

But UNICEF says throughout drought-hit provinces, 25,000 children are suffering severe acute malnutrition and require immediate treatment. There has been a 72-percent increase in diarrhea among children under 5, the agency said.

"Lack of rain reduces access to clean water and undermines effective hygiene, putting children's lives at risk," Daniel Toole, UNICEF's regional director, said in a statement last July. "UNICEF has already received reports that the incidence of diarrhea - globally a leading cause of death among young children - has increased seriously in the first six months of 2015 in the drought-affected provinces."

North Korean crops fail

Nordkorea Kim Jong Un Präsident

The third member of a dynasty that's ruled North Korea since partition, Kim Jong Un has been the Supreme Leader of the secretive Stalinist state since 2011

The North Korean government in August announced crop yields that had fallen more than 20 percent compared with the year before, the UN agency said.

The deteriorating situation would require $18 million in assistance funds, UNICEF said in a statement on Tuesday.

"There is a critical need to address the immediate and underlying causes of under-nutrition in order to promote child survival and development," UNICEF said.

That would break down to $8.5 million in assistance for nutrition, $5 million for clean water and sanitation and $4.5 million for health services.

El Nino phenomenon wreaks havoc on agriculture

That request is part of a larger appeal for destroyed crops across East Asia and the Pacific Rim blamed on the El Nino weather phenomenon

as well as climate change.

"El Nino is peaking at the moment, and we expect the impacts to come up after the peak," said Krishna Krishnamurthy, a regional climate risk analyst for the World Food Program.

El Nino is a cyclical phenomenon caused by unusual warming of the Pacific Ocean. It triggers heavy rains and floods in South America and dry, scorching weather in Asia and East Africa over the course of about a year.

jar/msh (AP, Reuters)

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