The World Food Program says it is stepping up operations in northern Burundi, to address a serious food crisis in the region. The WFP says an estimated one-half million people are in need of food aid.

The World Food Program says an ongoing drought and a poor harvest, last year, have created severe food shortages in the provinces Kirundo and Muyinga. To deal with this crisis, WFP spokeswoman, Christiane Berthiaume, says the agency will assist at least 520,000 people for the next two months.

"We have always been feeding people in this part of the country, as well as elsewhere in Burundi," she said. "But, we really have to step up operations as soon as we first saw the signs of a looming crisis appearing. So, we are beefing up, so that there will not be a crisis and we are also supporting all the nutritional centers and those centers that do help the malnourished children."

Ms. Berthiaume says many people in the area are going hungry. She says the food shortage has forced many people to cut down to one meal a day.

She says the WFP plans to continue providing food rations, twice a month, to everyone in the most seriously affected areas. She says this will continue for the next few months. She says, after that, food assistance only will be available for those people identified as the poorest and most vulnerable. She says others will be able to get food aid through so-called food-for-work activities.

" People are paid, in food, to do something that would benefit all the community - and, specifically, things that are linked to agricultural production," she said. "That is what we will do in this part of the country, once we will have done enough general food distribution for people to be fit again."

Ms. Berthiaume says the World Food Program also will continue to assist hospitals, HIV-AIDS victims and nutritional centers.

The WFP says it has enough money to assist drought-affected and other vulnerable people in Burundi for the next five months. Then, it says food supplies will run out. It says it will need an additional $25 million to feed these people between June and December.