More than 850,000 people in Somalia are in desperate need of food and are living "in crisis and emergency conditions", the director of UN humanitarian operations has said.

John Ging, who just returned from a three-day visit to Somalia, said on Wednesday that another two million Somalis out of a total population of 10 million were considered to be "food insecure".

"These figures are very, very large," he told a news conference at the UN headquarters in New York. "They tell us a simple message which is that the situation in Somalia for Somalis on the humanitarian side is very grave. It's also very fragile."

Ging said the UN World Food Programme's Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit reported this month that 857,000 Somalis were in acute crisis conditions and required urgent humanitarian assistance.

This is "a modest improvement" from the previous six months when 870,000 Somalis desperately needed food, he said.

In recent years Somalia has made some strides in security and governance, particularly since August 2011, when al-Shabab fighters were forced out of the capital, Mogadishu.

But the rebels have not been defeated and the government controls only small parts of the country and is struggling to keep a grip on security and battle corruption.

The food security unit said a majority of needy people have been displaced from their homes, largely as a result of fighting, insecurity and lack of food.

The UN appealed for $933m for the humanitarian crisis in Somalia this year, but Ging said so far it had received only $36m.

In 2011, the UN appeal for Somalia was 86 percent funded, but in 2013 it was just 50 percent funded, he said.

Source: AP