Page last updated at 09:38 GMT, Wednesday, 16 April 2008 10:38 UK

North Korea 'faces food crisis'

North Koreans queue for food at a kiosk in Pyongyang on 26 February 2008
North Korea does not produce enough food to feed its 23 million people

North Korea is facing a humanitarian crisis caused by acute food shortages, a UN agency has warned.

The situation there was "clearly bad and getting worse", a senior World Food Programme official said, and help was needed to avert serious tragedy.

North Korea has been dependent on international food aid for years.

But severe flooding last year compounded its problems, devastating large swathes of agricultural land and leading to a poor harvest.

WFP estimates that 6.5 million North Koreans, out of a total population of 23 million, do not have enough to eat - and that this figure could rise.

'Help needed'

Last month, the UN predicted North Korea would face a food deficit of 1.66 million metric tons this year - twice that of 2007.

The food security situation in the DPRK (North Korea) is clearly bad and getting worse - It is increasingly likely that external assistance will be urgently required to avert a serious tragedy
Tony Banbury,
Asia director, WFP

Food prices in Pyongyang had also doubled over the past year, presenting serious problems for residents, the WFP said.

"WFP has long warned that last year's floods would exacerbate DPRK's (North Korea's) chronic food problem and we are now seeing the effects in the markets," said Jean-Pierre de Margerie, WFP's North Korea country director.

"It is obvious that more food imports and external food aid will be needed this year."

Tony Banbury, Asia director for the WFP, said that the UN agency was taking the situation "very seriously".

He called for action from both Pyongyang and the wider international community.

"WFP cannot solve the problem on our own," he said.

"The DPRK government needs to provide the necessary operating conditions for aid agencies so that donors have confidence that their donations will be used for the intended purposes."

"And donors need to do their part to ensure that the people of DPRK do not go hungry, or worse."

The communist nation has experienced famine in the past.

Up to two million people are believed to have died in the mid to late 1990s due to shortages caused by flooding and drought.

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