“It is very important to have sufficient commitments promptly to prevent an erosion of the hard-won improvements in nutritional standards of recent years,” the UN World Food Programme (WFP) Country Director for the DPRK, Rick Corsino, said in urging support for a new $171 million emergency operation for next year.”Reduced donations have forced us to suspend food distributions to millions of malnourished women and children for long periods over the past two years. That trend must be reversed,” Mr. Corsino added in a statement, noting that rations had already been cut this month for more than two million people among the 6.5 million most vulnerable.Warning of potential disaster for nearly two million people in rural areas, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) called for $3.5 million to provide fertilizers and other materials to increase fertility and help produce food in 2004 in a country that has been plagued for years by drought, floods and other problems affecting agriculture.“The consequences of not funding the FAO appeal for agricultural projects amounting to $3.5 million could be disastrous for around 1.8 million people living in rural areas,” the agency’s programme coordinator in the DPRK, Michael Stapleton, said. “Increasing agricultural production could partly reduce the needs for food aid.” WFP said that in December 2.2 million North Koreans would again be deprived of the agency’s cereal rations, and the number was expected to rise to 3.8 million early in 2004 unless fresh pledges were made soon. With slightly better autumn harvests likely to maintain next year’s overall cereals gap at just under one million tons, WFP’s 2004 operation requires 485,000 tons of commodities, down from the 513,000 tons (valued at $204 million) sought for 2003.Next year, WFP will again target primarily those most affected by lack of dietary balance and those who have no means of meeting their minimum caloric or micronutrient requirements: children, pregnant and nursing women, and the elderly. It will also seek to assist those households most negatively affected by the country’s economic adjustment process, which has sparked increases in the price of staple foods.