In July, the UN announced that two regions of Somalia were suffering from what was dubbed the worst famine in 60 years. And it warned yesterday evening that the desperation looks set to expand across the horn of Africa into parts of Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia.
"Famine is expected to spread across all regions of the south in the coming four to six weeks," said the UN Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit adding that it is set to last until at least December.
Death and starvation rates show two cut-off areas of the Middle Shabelle region - Balcad and Cadale - and in and around refugee camps in the capital, Mogadishu, have topped famine levels. These parts join the Bakool and the Lower Shabelle region, where famine was declared on July 20.
Distressing TV pictures of mass suffering over the last fortnight triggered a rise in aid after a slow response. But al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab group, which controls most of south and central Somalia and parts of the capital, has banned some aid agencies from their territory. The UN wants to raise £0.6bn to tackle the crisis.
"The current situation represents the most severe humanitarian crisis in the world today and Africa's worst food security crisis since Somalia's 1991-92 famine," it said a joint statement yesterday with US funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network, or FEWS NET. It called for a massive global response to prevent more deaths and social collapse.
"Despite increased attention in recent weeks, current humanitarian response remains inadequate, due in part to ongoing access restrictions and difficulties in scaling up emergency assistance programs, as well as funding gaps," the joint statement said.
Rising food prices in Somalia have made the situation worse, said FEWS NET- costs have more than doubled since 2010, and in some areas have tripled.
"Across all livelihoods, poor households (30 per cent of the population) are unable to meet basic food needs and have almost no ability to cope with these food deficits," it said.
Desperate for food, about 860,000 people have abandoned their homes in Somalia, often leaving dead children along their journey to neighbouring countries. Another 1.5 million people have fled drought-hit areas of Somalia for other parts of the war-torn nation. Somalia has gone two decades without a working government, and hardened fighting between clans.