Tajikistan is in the grip of emergency food shortages, the UN's World Food Programme is warning.

The deteriorating food situation is part of the energy crisis which hit the mountainous nation in the middle of its coldest winter for five decades.

The cost of food has tripled in recent months, partially because of rising world prices.

Some humanitarian agencies claim Central Asia's poorest nation is heading towards catastrophe.

It's well below zero in Tajikistan, but most people have no electricity, no heating and now, increasingly, many don't have enough food either.

One family in the village of Sagdyan, outside the capital Dushanbe, said their four children were surviving on milk and rice. Their next door neighbours could not afford even that.

One meal a day

Zlatan Milisic, the country director for the World Food Programme in Tajikistan, says it's not just the rural population that's being affected, but people in the cities too.

"We are seeing more and more people who are eating just one meal a day. And we only expect the food situation to deteriorate. This is already a real emergency," said Mr Milisic.

He added additional funding was urgently needed to assist the people.

Even at the best of times, tens of thousands of people are malnourished.

But this winter is affecting a huge proportion of the population. People are spending all they have on trying to keep warm.

And the worst is still to come - Tajikistan is currently using up its last energy resources, and it may face a total blackout.