|The worst drought in 60 years plagues the Horn of Africa - affecting 12 million people [Reuters]
The United Nations has urged "massive" action to save millions of people in the drought-stricken Horn of Africa.
"The catastrophic situation demands massive and urgent international aid," said Jacques Diouf, head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), which hosted Monday's emergency meeting of UN aid agencies and charities in Rome.
More than 12 million people are affected by the worst drought in 60 years, which has wreaked havoc on war-torn Somalia and parts of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda.
UN officials say the drought has killed tens of thousands of people over the past few months, and has forced desperate survivors to walk for weeks in search of food and water.
The UN has received $1bn since launching an appeal for the region in November 2010, but needs a billion more by the end of the year to stave off widespread starvation.
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Al Jazeera's Alan Fisher, reporting from Rome, said: "The UN wants firm commitments from anyone who is saying, 'yes we will pledge money'."
Australia's Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, said: "The priority here is, to state the bleeding obvious, to get food here in the next few days."
Despite recent EU fund pledges, aid agencies say more money needs to be raised quickly. Donor countries are set to meet in Nairobi later this week to discuss aid and logistics.
'Road of death'
Josette Sheeran, head of the UN's World Food Programme (WFP), told reporters earlier on Monday that the condition of children affected by the drought "is the worst I have ever seen".
"What we saw is children who are arriving so weak that many of them are in stage four malnutrition and have little chance - less than 40 per cent chance - of making it," Sheeran said. "We also heard from women who had to leave babies along the road and make the horrifying choice of saving the stronger for the weaker or those who had children die in their arms."
The International Red Cross has delivered 400 tonnes of food to drought affected areas of southern Somalia, controlled by al- Shabab fighters.
But the WFP says it is still being blocked from rebel-held areas and it will begin airlifting food aid into Mogadishu, which is controlled by the country's Transitional Federal Government, on Tuesday.
Many famine victims continue to travel between Somalia and Kenya seeking food and shelter - walking along a road that French Minister Bruno Le Maire has described as "a road of hope, but also a road of death".
Last week, the UN formally declared a famine in two areas of southern Somalia.
Al-Shabab, which controls large swathes of south and central Somalia, signalled earlier this month that it would accept certain aid groups it had previously banned, but appeared to change its mind on Thursday.
The group denies a famine is taking place and said the UN's famine declaration is politically motivated.
The renewed threat from al-Shabab means only a handful of agencies will be able to respond to the hunger crisis in the area under its control.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on donor countries to come up with $1.6bn in aid for the two regions of southern Somalia designated by the UN as famine zones.
The World Bank on Monday pledged more than $500m for the region, with the bulk of the money going towards long-term projects to aid farmers
However, $12m will be immediately released for relief projects for those worst hit by the drought.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies