North Korea has refused to accept future U.S. food aid and has also expelled five groups that distribute American aid in the country, a State Department spokesman said Tuesday.
Aid workers and U.S. officials are worried that the government's decision will endanger the millions of North Koreans dependent on food aid to survive. Since the 1990s when the North Korea was devastated by a severe famine, the country has relied heavily on international aid to feed its people.
State Department spokesman Robert Woods told reporters that no reason was given for rejecting U.S. food aid, according to The Associated Press.
"We're obviously disappointed," Wood said. "Clearly, this is food assistance that the North Korean people need. That's why we're concerned. ... The food situation in North Korea is not a good one."
North Korea is one of the poorest countries in the world, with about 9 million people – mostly children, pregnant and nursing women and the elderly – needing urgent food assistance, according to the World Food Program.
The five aid groups distributing U.S. aid in the North have been asked to leave by the end of March.
In addition to a food shortage problem, the reclusive communist country also is known for having arguably the worst human rights record in the world.
A U.N. human rights investigator on Monday told the U.N. Human Rights Council that life in North Korea is "dire and desperate," and prisons are like "death traps," according to AP.
When an individual commits a crime, which includes criticizing the government or being found a Christian, not only the person but his whole family is imprisoned, reported Vitit Muntarbhorn.
"The abhorrent prison conditions, including lack of food, poor hygiene, freezing conditions in winter time, forced labor and corporal punishment, result in a myriad of abuses and deprivations," said Muntarbhorn, a Thai professor of law, to the U.N. body.
"Although torture is prohibited by law, it is extensively practiced."
Other human rights researchers have also reported horrendous human rights conditions in North Korea. Open Doors USA, a ministry working with the persecuted church, has for seven straight years ranked North Korea as the number one persecutor of Christians in the world.