Holdbrook Arthur, WFP Regional Director for Eastern and Central Africa, called on the international community on Friday to respond quickly to the worsening impact of drought in the region.

"While final figures on the number of people in need of urgent assistance are still being established, donors must respond now if we are going to avert a humanitarian catastrophe," Arthur said in a statement issued in Kampala, the Ugandan capital.

"Pastoralists [nomadic herdsmen] living in these arid, remote lands have very few survival strategies left and desperately require our assistance to make it through until the next rains."

According to the UN food aid agency, preliminary assessments show that those affected include an estimated 2.5 million in Kenya, 1.4 million in Somalia, 1.5 million in Ethiopia and 60,000 in Djibouti.

Vulnerable

Arthur voiced concern over indications that the number of people in need could rise as the year progresses, as UN food stocks are already low and it needs around 59,000 tonnes at a cost of about US$46 million to provide food to the most vulnerable, according to the statement.

"This is of grave concern, especially as WFP's current emergency operation is inadequately funded, and without additional contributions, we could be forced to halt our much-needed food assistance in February," he said.

Further details about the African drought are available at the World Food Programme website: http://www.wfp.org/english/