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".

Could record food prices be their own cure, spurring farmers around the world to lift production? A recent fact-finding trip to Kenya by Josette Sheeran, director of the United Nations World Food Programme, provided little evidence to support this view.

When all goes well, thunderheads tower above India's southwestern state of Kerala in early June, drenching the region's vital rice fields and ensuring a bountiful harvest. From there the summer monsoon plods northward to soak the baking plains and irrigate vital breadbasket regions that feed 1.1 billion people before arriving at the foot of the Himalayas in August.

From his Cessna a mile above the southern Amazon, John Carter looks down on the destruction of the world's greatest ecological jewel. He watches men converting rain forest into cattle pastures and soybean fields with bulldozers and chains. He sees fires wiping out such gigantic swaths of jungle that scientists now debate the "savannization" of the Amazon.

Rising food prices could spread social unrest across Africa after triggering riots in Niger, Senegal, Cameroon and Burkina Faso, African ministers and senior agriculture diplomats have warned. Kanayo Nwanze, the vice-president of the United Nations' International Fund for Agriculture, told a conference in Ethiopia that food riots could become a common feature, particularly after the price of rice has doubled in three months. "The social unrest we have seen in places such as Burkina Faso, Senegal or Cameroon may become common in other places in Africa," Mr Nwanze said.

THE United Nations was to halt food hand-outs for up to 800,000 Palestinians yesterday because of a severe fuel shortage in Gaza brought on by an Israeli economic blockade. John Ging, the director of operations in Gaza for the UN Relief and Works Agency, which supports Palestinian refugees, said there had been an inadequate supply of fuel from Israel to Gaza for 10 months until it was finally halted two weeks ago. "The devastating humanitarian impact is entirely predictable," Mr Ging said.