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More children dying in North Korea

In a sign of deteriorating health among people that have suffered chronic food shortages, life expectancy in North Korea has dropped over the past 15 years, while infant mortality and mothers dying in childbirth, rose

North Koreans face shorter lives than they did 15 years ago and more children are dying, a United Nations report showed, in a sign of deteriorating health among people that have suffered chronic food shortages. The Communist country’s average life expectancy dropped to 69years in 2008 from 73 years in 1993, according to a census report by the UN Population Fund, (UNFPA). The infant mortality rate climbed to 19 per 1,000 children from 14.1 during the period, the report showed. The first census since 1993 gives a rare glimpse into the workings of the isolated and highly secretive regime.

Despite a devastating famine which killed as many as two million people in the mid- to late 1990s, five teams of researchers found the nation’s population actually went up from 21.2 million to 24.05 million over the 15-year period. But child deaths rose and the maternal mortality rate grew from 54 to 77 deaths per 100,000 live births.  A third of North Korea’s women and children aged under five were malnourished, said a September report by the UN's World Food Programme. And the situation there is not expected to pick up in the near future because international donations for feeding programmes have dropped after to the stand-off over the North's nuclear missile tests. Also, the capital, Pyongyang has rejected some aid handouts.

The country has relied on outside handouts since the 1990s famine caused by floods, drought and economic mismanagement. This year, the country will suffer a shortfall of at least 1 million tons of food, the Seoul-based Korea Rural Economic Institute said in a report out this month.The census also reveals that basic living conditions are poor, with 65 per cent of families living in two-rooms, and 85 per cent of homes have access to running water. Only 58 per cent have a flush toilet. The figures show more than 724,000 people working in public administration and defence, though it was unclear if this was a definitive guide to the size of the North's military, Agence France Presse reported. 

By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children