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N. Korea Could Face Food Shortage, say UN Agencies

United Nations agencies are warning that North Korea could face another food shortage unless international food donations increase. The reclusive communist state last faced a serious famine in 1995. Reporting from. A new U.N. report prepared by the World Food Program and the Food and Agricultural Organization warns that North Korea - despite better harvests - still needs substantial aid through 2004.

Rick Corsino, the WFP director for North Korea, says donations are falling short and his agency may have to cut back programs within days. Speaking in Beijing Thursday, Mr. Corsino estimated 150,000 tons of food is needed or several million people could be at risk of starvation in just months. "The crisis is critical," he says. "We are within a matter of days of being forced to reduce our distribution to the elderly."

The U.N. agency currently feeds about 6.5 million of the 23 million people in North Korea.

The last major food shortage in 1995 - caused by natural disasters and mismanagement- resulted in famine. Since then, donors have provided more than eight million tons of food.

Mr. Corsino asked donor countries to give money and not food to expedite the process of buying supplies. "When people give us food it takes a long period of time to get there," he says. "If we have cash we're able to buy locally and regionally and we can condense the delivery distribution period of time." He says contributions from the United States have dropped in recent years - but it remains among the largest donors of food aid to North Korea - along with China and South Korea.