NORTH KOREA Famine and mass starvation are looming large over the nation's 22 million inhabitants. Nearly 2.1 million children and half a million pregnant women across the country are at risk of malnutrition. Food supply for coal miners and others doing heavy work has been cut into half. Medical services across the nation are "very fragile" according to the World Health Organization. Floods last year worsened the crisis after five years of declining food production.

The country's grain requirement for 1996 stands at six million tonnes, but only 4.8,million is expected to be available, including foreign food aid. A joint report by the World Food Programme (WFP) and Food and Agriculture Organization says that geographical conditions of North Korea are such that it had relied heavily on intensive use of chemicals and electric power to produce crops. But the closure of usual channels of aid from China and Russia, and the country's poor credit rating abroad, have brought it to the brink of famine. The WFP is struggling to find donors to continue its aid programme.

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