ADDIS ABABA (AFP) - Millions of people in drought-hit Ethiopia face dire food shortages, with the United Nations warning Thursday (Jan 28) of a break in deliveries that could leave huge numbers without life saving aid.
Floods and failed rains caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon have sparked a dramatic rise in the number of people going hungry in east Africa. While aid workers are working to deliver supplies, the scale of the crisis means worrying gaps are being predicted.
"Without additional resources, the food sector projects a full pipeline break in a couple of months," the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a report seen on Thursday.
It is unclear whether the African Union will take steps to counter the hunger crisis affecting several nations at its annual summit in the Ethiopian capital this week.
The UN said landlocked Ethiopia was working to ensure "maximum fast-tracking" for aid from the port of Berbera in neighbouring Somaliland as well as the key port of Djibouti where the World Food Programme (WFP) this month opened a huge base to help deliver aid to the wider region.
"We need urgent, rapid action to scale up our support to the Ethiopian government and people," OCHA added.
At least 10.2 million people need food aid in Ethiopia, a figure the UN says could rise sharply, as "forecasts indicate that it could double within months" casting a fifth of the population into hunger.
More than half are being supported by the government, the rest by WFP and aid agencies.
"Those who remember Ethiopia in the 1980s may feel a disturbing sense of deja vu," OCHA warned earlier this month.
"The country is once again facing devastating climatic conditions: rains have failed; millions of people need food aid; children are suffering from severe malnutrition."
The UN has said the El Nino pattern is the strongest ever recorded, and has caused entire harvests to be lost in some regions.
Thousands have left hardest hit regions, with stream of refugees still travelling across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen despite the conflict raging there. Nearly 100,000 Ethiopians and Somalis last year travelled by boat to Yemen, according to UN figures.
Others who stay are resorting to desperate measures, with some marrying off children in a bid to survive, the UN said.
El Nino is triggered by a warming in sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. It can cause unusually heavy rains in some parts of the world and drought elsewhere.