The European Union said Monday that it will provide 10 million euros (15 million dollars) in a one-time package of highly controlled food aid to North Korea, fearing that 650,000 people in the Communist Asian country are at risk of dying from hunger, DPA reported.
The decision follows a visit to North Korea in June by European Commission experts, who found that many people had, for instance, turned to eating grass, after government-provided food rations were cut back to the daily equivalent of a small bowl of rice.
"It is outrageous that North Korea, year after year after year, is starving its people," EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva told the German Press Agency dpa.
"But at the same time, we also need to be true to our values," she added. "Kids don't know politics and they should not be the victims."
North Korea has been a "chronically food-insecure country," while repeated weather damage to crops and a recent outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease has worsened the situation, she said.
"Given what (the experts) have seen, no intervention is not an option," Georgieva said.
The EU aid, however, will be released under a "tough monitoring mechanism" agreed upon with the Pyongyang regime during the June visit.
The commission called the monitoring terms "unprecedented." Georgieva said the North Korean regime has shown "an unusual willingness ... to provide access to monitors."
"Whether this is a signal of more openness or an act of desperation, I think it is too early to say," she noted. "Obviously there is a huge deficit of trust with the North Korean authorities."
The World Food Programme will supervise the aid distribution, by carrying out 400 visits per month to "warehouses, child institutions, households, hospitals, markets and food distribution sites" among other things, according to the commission.
"What was very symbolic to us was the ability to talk to households, to actually visit people randomly," Georgieva noted.
The EU aid is mainly geared towards children, pregnant women, new mothers, hospital patients and the elderly.