The United Nations Children's Fund said its operation in North Korea will soon run out of medicines and food. If more donations do not come in soon, UNICEF says many children may die.

By next month UNICEF in North Korea will run out of basic drugs, such as antibiotics, vaccines and oral rehydration salts.

Mehr Khan, regional director of UNICEF for East Asia and the Pacific, said Tuesday in Beijing that hospitals and children's homes may run out of special milk needed for malnourished children in May.

Despite important achievements in preventing deaths in North Korea (DPRK) Ms. Khan said UNICEF fears it will not be able to hold onto its successes. "Since early this year, there has been a dramatic drop in levels of funding available for humanitarian assistance to DPRK," Ms. Khan said.

Ms. Khan also said the World Food Program is in "urgent need of funding" for its North Korea aid programs. She said the WFP has been promised enough aid to carry it through the middle of this year, but after that it faces a severe funding shortfall.

"We have appealed for $12 million in emergency assistance for this year, and so far we have received under $500,000, so you can see it is a critical situation, and unless funds are available on an urgent basis as soon as possible, we will have to stop work in some critical areas," Ms. Khan said.

She said at least 15 million women and children in North Korea may face malnutrition and illness this year, and many will die, unless aid comes soon.

The isolated, hard-line Communist state has been dependent on foreign aid since floods and economic mismanagement devastated its food harvests for several years in the mid-1990s. Aid has started to dry up, however, partly because of great needs in other parts of the world, and partly because of international concerns that North Korea is doing little to improve its situation.