NAIROBI -- The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations said on Sunday that more than 17 million people are currently in crisis and emergency food insecurity levels in the Horn of African region.
FAO said widespread drought conditions in the Horn of Africa have intensified since the failure of the October-December rains with only one-quarter of expected rainfall received.
FAO Deputy Director-General, Climate and Natural Resources, Maria Helena Semedo warned that if response is not immediate and sufficient, the risks are massive and the costs high.
"The magnitude of the situation calls for scaled-up action and coordination at national and regional levels. This is, above all, a livelihoods and humanitarian emergency -- and the time to act is now," Semedo said in a statement received in Nairobi.
The UN food agency said the 17 million people in need of urgent humanitarian assistance are in Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda.
Currently, close to 12 million people across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are in need of food assistance, as families face limited access to food and income, together with rising debt, low cereal and seed stocks, and low milk and meat production.
A pre-famine alert has been issued for Somalia and an immediate and humanitarian response is highly required.
Acute food shortage and malnutrition also remain to be a major concern in many parts of South Sudan, Sudan (west Darfur) and Uganda's Karamoja region.
"We cannot wait for a disaster like the famine in 2011," Semedo said, adding that repeated episodes of drought have led to consecutive failed harvests, disease outbreaks, deteriorating water and pasture conditions and animal deaths.
She said the drought situation in the region is extremely worrying, primarily in almost all of Somalia but also across southern and southeastern Ethiopia, and northern Kenya.
"As a consequence, with the next rains at least eight weeks away and the next main harvest not until July, millions are at risk of food insecurity across the region," Semedo said.
"The situation is rapidly deteriorating and the number of people in need of livelihood and humanitarian emergency assistance is likely to increase as the dry and lean season continue with significant negative impact on livelihoods and household assets as well as on the food security and nutrition of affected rural communities," he said.
FAO called for joint priorities to increase and include enhanced coordination, increased and systematic engagement of member states and effective response to member states' identified needs, as well as strengthened resource mobilization efforts.
Source: Philippines News Agency