A North Korean woman walks
A North Korean woman walks across a dry and barren landscape on the banks of the Yalu River, near North Korea's border with ChinaGetty Images

A drought that is sweeping across North Korea could ultimately mean death for many children if swift action is not taken, the United Nations (UN) has warned.

Pyongyang, the capital of the highly secretive country, admitted in June that the drought is the "worst in 100 years."

A report from UNICEF - the child support body of the UN - said that it has met with officials from North Korea who had confirmed that there has been a "significant" increase in the amount of cases of diarrhoea among young children as safe drinking water becomes harder to obtain as the drought goes on.

UNICEF Regional Director Daniel Toole said: "The situation is urgent. But if we act now – by providing urgently needed expertise and prepositioning supplies – we can save lives. If we delay until we are certain of crop failures, it may well be too late to save the most vulnerable children.

"Lack of rain reduces access to clean water and undermines effective hygiene, putting children's lives at risk. UNICEF has already received reports that the incidence of diarrhoea – globally a leading cause of death among young children – has increased seriously in the first six months of 2015 in the drought-affected provinces."

UNICEF added it has already supplied emergency equipment such as water purification tablets and water storage containers to aid children with severe acute malnutrition and has also stepped up its efforts to educate on how to treat the children effected.

A 2012 study from the global body found that one in four children in North Korea showed symptoms of chronic malnutrition and the current drought will only exacerbate the situation, the UN warned.

The report added: "The country's isolation and the lack of funding for programmes to help children in DPR Korea add to the need for rapid action."