The data showed that the national rate of stunting, a key indicator of malnutrition among children, dropped from 32.4 per cent in 2009 -- the last time the surveys were conducted -- to 19 per cent last year.
But the figures on stunting varied significantly across the country. In the capital Pyongyang, 10 per cent of children were affected by stunting, while in the rural Ryanggang province the rate was 32 per cent. Separately, the data also indicated that a full third of North Korea's drinking water is contaminated, posing another major threat to healthy growth among children.
UNICEF said it needed more time to study the government data to better understand the situation in different regions of the country. But it added that the new data "should allow the government and international aid agencies to more accurately and effectively target life-saving assistance".
The findings were released more than a week after a historic nuclear summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump. At the talks, Trump dangled the prospect of foreign investment in impoverished North Korea, raising the hope that the US could help ease crippling poverty in the country.
A United Nations-led report in March last year said chronic food shortages and malnutrition in North Korea were widespread. Around 41 per cent of the population -- or some 10.5 million people -- were undernourished, it said. Around 18 million North Koreans, or 70 per cent of the population including 1.3 million children aged under five, depend on the government-run Public Distribution System for rations of cereal and potatoes. But most people do not consume a sufficiently diverse diet for healthy development, the report said.
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