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North Korea to become world's largest recipient of U.N. food aid

To avert a famine, more aid is needed. Half of all families eat only two meals a day, says new WFP assessment.

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North Korea needs a half a billion dollars' worth of emergency food aid to avert a famine, a United Nations official warned this week.

Increasing numbers of North Koreans are now foraging for wild foods, creating "an urgent need" for donations to the UN World Food Program's aid plan, said WFP regional director Tony Banbury.

"It is not a famine, and we are intent on ensuring that it doesn't turn into one," added Mr. Banbury, who has just ended a week's visit to the reclusive country.

Banbury blamed an estimated 20 percent shortfall in food supplies on several factors, including floods last year, less aid from China (down sharply in the past two years due to new restrictions on grain exports generally), and South Korea's suspension of food and fertilizer shipments this year. South Korea's President Lee Myung Bak, who took office in February, has vowed to take a harder line against his country's northern neighbor.

A recent WFP assessment found that more than half the country's households are eating only two meals a day and that cereal prices have risen by as much as 300 percent over the past year.

Citizens eligible for food rations have seen their allocation cut from 500 grams a day to 150 grams, Banbury reported. Few North Koreans eat meat except on major national holidays when the government distributes it, he added.

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