Flooding and poor harvests have caused North Korea's worst food crisis since the late 1990s and have put millions at risk, the United Nations' food agency said Wednesday.

The food shortage threatens widespread malnutrition, the World Food Program said.

"Millions of vulnerable North Koreans are at risk of slipping toward precarious hunger levels," Jean-Pierre de Margerie, the WFP's country director for North Korea, told a news conference.

food crisis Biofuel

www.radicalcartography.net/nuclear_full.png North Korea was at the receiving end of global condemnation after it announced that it carried out its first underground atomic weapons test in 2006. The US, Japan, China and Britain were the first to criticise and demanded action by the United Nations Security Council. Barring Japan, all these countries have conducted several nuclear tests of

P. S. Suryanarayana SINGAPORE: The U.S. on Saturday urged North Korea to "abandon' all its nuclear weapons in a culmination of the process set on course by Friday's demolition of the cooling tower at the Yongbyon complex. The U.S.' call acquires unusual importance because of Japan's comment that the elimination of North Korea's existing stockpile of nuclear weapons is the real issue to address rather than just the dramatic destruction of a cooling tower.

P. S. Suryanarayana The 25-metre cooling tower was built in 1986 Blast for peace: The cooling tower of the nuclear complex being demolished in Yongbyon on Friday. SINGAPORE: The cooling tower at the Yongbyon complex, suspected to be the nerve centre of North Korea's plutonium-based nuclear weapons programme, was on Friday brought down in a controlled dynamite blast. With that televised "implosion,' North Korea demolished one of its "icons' of nuclear empowerment to make a political statement of disarmament.

Much as the United States President George W. Bush and the US secretary of state Con-doleezza Rice would like to believe that 'apparent improvement' in the diets of people in India and China is among the causes of the current global food crisis, the food crisis is the result of other factors as well, not the least important among them being the diversion of food for bio-fuels.

A devastating disaster hits a longstanding Asian dictatorship. The crisis is compounded by failed economic policies and conflicts with neighbors. The world stands ready to help, but the regime dithers and aid goes undelivered. Even information on the catastrophe is scarce thanks to a media blackout, government propaganda and denial.

Soaring global food prices and reluctant donors are pushing North Korea back toward famine, which could see the secretive government turn even more repressive to keep control, a paper released on Wednesday said. "The country is in its most precarious situation since the end of the famine a decade ago," said the paper from the Washington-based Peterson Institute for International Economics. Stephan Haggard, who wrote the paper with Marcus Noland, said the sharp increase in world prices for commodities had sent ripples through the communist state's economy.

North Korea is about three months away from a crisis in humanitarian terms, as a poor harvest and declining aid from neighbouring countries threaten to create dramatic food shortages, the World Food Programme warned yesterday. Tony Banbury, the WFP's regional director for Asia, told the Financial Times that, while such a crisis could be averted over the coming months, "there are no real actions being taken and no obvious solutions in the immediate horizon".