The extensive drought affecting the Horn of Africa has already caused food shortages across south and central Somalia, as well as in neighbouring Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti.

Around two million Somalis are affected by drought, and if it does not rain soon, then about 900,000 could be facing famine by September, the Food and Agriculture Organisation said on Friday.

Graham Farmer, the FAO's officer for Somalia, said "that would translate into 10,000 to 12,000 deaths per month".

"We're not saying that that number of people will die. We are saying that is the risk that we are working against."

The UN Office for the Co-ordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has nearly doubled its Somalia funding appeal to $327 million, acknowledging that food aid needs have grown dramatically since December, when it had initially asked for $170 million.

Multiple problems

Much of the increase stems from the need to protect food from militia and pirates who have looted humanitarian aid in recent months.

Lawlessness in Somalia, which has been run by warring clans since regional commanders ousted ruler Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, has made conditions there particularly critical, said Christian Balslev-Olesen of the UN Children's Fund.

The drought could result in up to
12,000 deaths every month

Pointing to a resurgence of polio, measles deaths, pervasive poverty and malnutrition, Balslev-Olesen said the drought could further destabilise the country.

"If we cannot assist the people in Somalia during the drought situation, it's going to have direct impact on the political peace process," he said.

Philippe Lazzarini, who runs OCHA's operations in Somalia, said that drought represented a bigger threat to Somalia than it did to its neighbours.

"The drought is the cause of the humanitarian crises in Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti. In Somalia the drought is further aggravating already identified humanitarian crises," he said.