New E Africa food crisis warning
In pictures: Impending famine »
Rising food prices are putting millions of people in East Africa at risk of severe hunger and destitution, the UK-based charity Oxfam has warned.
Droughts, war and poverty have put an estimated nine to 13 million people in the region in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, it says.
The situation has been made worse by rising food prices, with wheat and rice particularly expensive.
A BBC correspondent in Ethiopia says people are waiting for rain – or death.
The BBC’s Elizabeth Blunt has just travelled to the remote north-eastern Afar region and says people there are eating animal feed, as they cannot afford anything else.
She says the last rain fell in the area eleven months ago and is the second serious drought in the region in three years.
The region’s nomadic people raise animals for a living but many camels have died and some people are selling their goats in order to buy food.
She says the local shop does have maize but few local people can afford to buy it.
Oxfam is calling on donors to increase aid levels to the region.
“The cost of food has escalated by up to 500% in some places, leaving people who have suffered drought after drought in utter destitution,” says Oxfam’s Rob McNeil, who has just returned from the Somali and Afar regions of Ethiopia.
“Some of the roads we travelled on were littered with dead livestock. There is little or no pasture or water for the animals that people rely upon. People are increasingly becoming desperate.
The call follows another warning on Tuesday from the UN World Food Programme, saying that more than 14 million people in the Horn of Africa needed food aid because of drought and rising food and fuel prices.
In Somalia, the cost of imported rice increased by up to 350% between the beginning of 2007 and May 2008.
In areas of Ethiopia, the price of wheat has more than doubled over a six-month period, and food prices are expected to remain high until the next harvest in October.
In the areas of East Africa heavily dependent on food imports, such as Somalia, global food price rises are making food more expensive.
High malnutrition rates have been reported in several parts of Ethiopia and could increase without an immediate increase in humanitarian assistance.