"The already precarious food supply situation [in Darfur] may worsen if deteriorating security disrupts the main harvest due to start in the coming few weeks," the UN agency said in a report detailing food emergencies in 40 countries, released on Monday.

"The main concern is the declining stocks and whether supplies will be adequate to meet demand without world prices surging to even higher levels.

"While the situation in Darfur remains the most critical, elsewhere in eastern Africa, despite improved prospects for the 2006/07 crops in some areas, floods, erratic rains and conflict-related displacement have negatively affected the food situation.

"Most of the region's pastoral areas have yet to recover from the successive poor rains that severely affected livestock and resulted in acute food shortages and migration of thousands of people in search of water and food."

Africa

The FAO report said: "In Somalia, a severe food crisis is expected to persist throughout the country for the rest of 2006, affecting at least 1.8 million people.

"The majority of the population of the Central African Republic is facing food insecurity following disruption in production and marketing activities as a result of civil strife."

Women and children build homes 
for the displaced in Darfur

In southern Africa, 542,000 tonnes of cereals is needed "due largely to inadequate production, high unemployment, low purchasing power and the cumulative impact of HIV/Aids," the report said.

"In Zimbabwe, where inflation is expected to reach over 4,000 per cent next year, 1.4 million rural people - about 17 per cent of the total rural population - will not be able to meet their minimum cereal needs during the 2006/07 season."

Asia

In Asia, the FAO report said, food insecurity has worsened in North Korea and persisted in East Timor, while "millions of people in India and Pakistan [are] homeless and in need of food assistance. In China, the worst drought in 50 years has affected more than three million hectares (7.5 million acres) of crops in Sichuan and Chongqing".

Heightened conflict in Afghanistan over the past year has "further exacerbated food insecurity."

As for the Middle East, the UN agency's report said: "In Iraq, conflict and insecurity continues to displace hundreds of thousands of people."