United Nations food agencies are assessing whether to begin an emergency operation in North Korea to help millions of people at risk of hunger, according to an Agence France-Presse report.

North Korea made the formal request, Radio Australia News reported. The country has been hit hard by a harsh winter, the increase in global food prices and an outbreak of contagious foot-and-mouth disease that has caused the destruction of thousands of animals.

The World Food Programme (WFP) says the assessment will continue until March 6 to determine whether an emergency operation should be launched in April. 

The UN aid agency, one of the largest food buyers in the world, has delivered food to the victims of flooding in Pakistan, the earthquake in Haiti and the drought in the Sahel region of Africa.

The last WFP operation in North Korea, from September 2008 to November 2009, was the UN agency’s biggest international operation.