SEOUL: For the first time, North Korea told the world just how hungry its people are, and asked for help. North's Korean Central News Agency quoted an official as admitting that because of devastating floods, the country harvested only 2.5 million tons of grain last year, barely half the grain it needs to feed its population. The plea comes as the U.N. World Food Program is preparing its third appeal in a year for the countryĺs aid. U.N. officials called North Korea a nation "in the throes of a life-threatening food shortage," noting that its current state-provided rations have been reduced to only 3 1/2 ounces daily for each person, a fraction even of the 22 ounces refugees receive in U.N.-supported camps in Africa. The Clinton Administration last week eased its 47-year trade embargo on North Korea by allowing non-governmental organizations to provide food aid to the North. The North Korean official, who was not identified, was quoted as thanking the United States for its help. North Korea is poised to enter talks, to be brokered by the U.S. and China, with the South. Food for an increasingly desperate nation is sure play a role in the discussions.