"The population currently in need of food assistance in eastern and the Horn of Africa is over 12 million, with Ethiopia having the highest number of people in need of food aid," Epitace Nobera, regional coodinator for the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWSNET), said on Friday.

Nobera said about 4.5 million people were faced with food shortages in Ethiopia, mostly in the north-eastern and southern highlands and in the pastoral Afar and Somali regions.

In neighbouring Eritrea, an estimated 1.4 million people were at greater risk because the relief food rations they were receiving had been reduced due to food aid shortfalls, he added.

About 2.3 million in Kenya, 1.7 million in Uganda and 1.1 million in Somalia were in need of food aid, he added. He also mentioned 1.2 million in Sudan.

Poor rains resulting in crop failure and internal conflicts have undermined food security across the region.

The FEWSNET survey was funded by US Agency for International Development.