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ROME (Reuters) - The United Nations World Food Programme is to start an emergency food programme to help 3.5 million people in North Korea, the Rome-based organisation said on Friday.
"A bitter winter, crop loss and a lack of resources to secure cereal supplies from outside the country have left the Democratic People's Republic of Korea highly vulnerable to food shortages," it said in a statement.
"While acute malnutrition has not reached crisis levels, widespread chronic malnutrition and the poor diet ... mean that if there is any significant reduction in food intake the situation could deteriorate rapidly," it said.
The World Food Programme said government rations provided only about half of daily food needs and some families were being forced to cut down on the size and number of meals.
It said it would provide staple cereals and ingredients to enable local production of nutritious food such as corn-soy milk, rice-milk blend and nutrient-rich biscuits.
Three U.N. agencies visited the secretive communist state in February and March and reported that more than 6 million people needed food aid because of sharp falls in domestic production, adding to pressure for international food aid.
However, diplomatic efforts to resume full contacts between western countries and North Korea, which is technically still at war with South Korea, have been complicated by a stand-off over Pyongyang's nuclear programme.
Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Janet Lawrence