South Korea approved $8 million in humanitarian aid for the impoverished North on Wednesday, authorities said, with negotiations over Pyongyang's nuclear arsenal deadlocked and inter-Korean relations at a standstill. It will be the first such aid Seoul has provided Pyongyang since 2015 and follows the North's lowest recorded harvest for a decade, according to the United Nations.
The donation -- to be made through the UN -- comes as President Moon Jae-in seeks to salvage diplomacy between Pyongyang and Washington following the breakdown of the Hanoi summit when Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump failed to reach a deal on the North's nuclear programme and sanctions relief. Pyongyang has since largely cut off contact with both Seoul and Washington, with the South's unification minister saying this week he had last spoken to a North Korean official at the beginning of May.
Seoul's Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean relations, said the government had approved a plan to provide the funds amid concerns over the "worsening food situation". It will be given $4.5 million to the World Food Programme (WFP) to help address malnutrition, along with $3.5 million to UNICEF for health issues among children and pregnant women.
More than 10 million North Koreans -- 40 per cent of the population -- were suffering from severe food shortages, according to recent UN estimates. The figure is similar to recent years. "WFP and other international bodies have requested assistance to the North on the back of concerns for deteriorating conditions among the vulnerable there," the ministry said in a statement.
It is the first humanitarian aid implemented by Moon's government, but a North Korean propaganda outlet has already dismissed it as "non-essential" for inter-Korean relations. If the South "sincerely wishes for sustained development, peace and prosperity", it should implement the inter-Korean economic joint projects agreed last year instead of "raising the issue of humanitarian aid", the state-run Uriminzokkiri website said in a commentary last month.
Several sets of sanctions, imposed on the North over its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, currently block many proposed developments.
(With inputs from agencies.)