North Korea asks UN to help address food shortage

A South Korean driver checks sacks of flour bound for North Korea before crossing the inter-Korean border in Paju, north of Seoul

North Korea has asked UN aid agencies for help to address a looming food crisis after figures forecast a sharp drop in crop production for this year, a UN spokesman said Thursday.

Pyongyang has told the United Nations that it is facing a shortfall of 1.4 million tons in food production this year, including crops of rice, wheat, potato and soybean.

"The government has requested assistance from international humanitarian organizations present in the country to address the impact of the food security situation," said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

UN agencies are holding talks with Pyongyang "to take early action in order to address humanitarian needs," he said.

Some 10.5 million North Koreans, or 41 percent of the population, are in need of food aid, according to UN figures.

The appeal from the government came ahead of a summit next week between President Donald Trump and leader Kim Jong Un to agree on steps toward ending Pyongyang's nuclear and ballistic missiles program.

North Korea is demanding an easing of international sanctions after it halted its nuclear and missile tests and to build trust with the United States in the diplomatic dialogue.

During a first summit in Singapore last year, North Korea agreed to work toward the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula but there has been no concrete step to dismantle its weapons program.

The United Nations maintains that maximum pressure from sanctions will remain in place until North Korea has completely scrapped its military arsenal.