The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned Monday that at least 36 countries worldwide would face acute food shortage this year. The Rome-based agency said bad weather and civil unrest were the two greatest causes for the lack of food.

In a report issued Monday, the agency said African nations will be the hardest hit by food shortages this year, with at least 23 countries needing assistance.

The FAO's Foodcrops and Shortages report, issued three times a year, warned that the food situation in Eritrea is of "serious concern," noting that "successive years of inadequate rains have seriously undermined crop and livestock production" there. In Sudan, FAO estimates that the harvest will be below average due to conflict and drought. In Kenya, the poor second season maize crop will exacerbate food shortages in parts of the country.

But there is also some good news on the African continent. The report said that the food situation in Ethiopia has improved, partly as a result of a good weather. It also said that Somalia's good secondary harvest would improve food supplies in main agricultural areas.

FAO says food prospects for 2005 in southern Africa are mixed because of "delayed, erratic and generally below normal rainfall during the first half of the season." It said the food security situation is precarious in Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Swaziland.

In western Africa, the report says the food situation remains critical in Mauritania, while in Ivory Coast insecurity continues to disrupt agricultural and marketing activities.

Outside of Africa, the FAO said North Korea would continue to require food aid "despite recent gains in food production." The report added that many countries in Asia continue to suffer from the aftereffects of the December 26 tsunami.

The report says that more than 1.3 million people have received food assistance and adds that relief operations have "entered the recovery and reconstruction phase."

The agency expects harvests in Europe and Latin America to be steady. But this year, China is expected to be a net importer of cereal instead of a net exporter for the first time, as the FAO expects the Chinese to import about three million tons of cereals from global markets.