BRUSSELS, July 4, 2011 (AFP) - The European Commission said Monday it will provide 10 million euros in emergency food aid to North Korea to help 650,000 people at risk of dying from serious malnutrition.
Citing fears of a "worsening hunger crisis," the commission said the aid will mainly go to the northern and eastern provinces of the country "during the most difficult period of the worst year for food production in recent times."
The situation has become so dire that an increasing number of North Koreans have resorted to eating grass, the commission said.
A strict monitoring system was agreed with North Korean authorities to ensure the aid goes to the intended recipients, the European Union's executive arm said in a statement.
"Clearly, North Korea's chronic nutrition problem is turning into an acute crisis in some parts of the country," said EU humanitarian aid commissioner Kristalina Georgieva.
"If at any stage we discover that the aid is being diverted from its intended recipients then the commission will not hesitate to end its humanitarian intervention," she said.
"We simply cannot allow people to die of hunger and for this reason we are determined to monitor the delivery at every stage."
The food will reach children under the age of five hospitalised with severe acute malnutrition, pregnant and breastfeeding women, hospital patients and the elderly.
European Commission experts last month found that state-distributed food rations, which two-thirds of the population rely on, have been cut from 400 grammes of cereals per person per day in early April to 150 grammes in June.
This represents a fifth of the daily average nutritional requirement and equivalent to a small bowl of rice, the commission said.
"Increasingly desperate and extreme measures are being taken by the hard-hit North Koreans, including the widespread consumption of grass," the statement said.
The EU mission visited hospitals, clinics, kindergartens, nurseries, markets, cooperative farms and state food distribution centres to gather evidence of the deteriorating situation.