Nairobi (AFP) - Three years after famine in Somalia killed a quarter of a million people in six months, aid agencies warned Sunday a new catastrophe is looming unless urgent aid arrives.
A joint statement issued by a group of charities and aid agencies said there were more than 300,000 malnourished children in the east African country and 2.9 million people in need of life-saving help.
"Aid agencies today caution, again, that the signs of a drought are re-emerging in Somalia and urge for these not to be ignored in order to avoid a relapse into the conditions of the 2011 catastrophe," the statement said.
Without funding, the charities warned aid programmes could be forced to shut down even as the number of people facing starvation in the war-ravaged country is expected to rise, with 1.1 million internally displaced people the hardest hit.
"Most affected people are still recovering from the massive losses of the 2011 drought and famine. This time, we must not fail the people of Somalia," said Francois Batalingaya, World Vision's country director for Somalia.
The United Nations warned earlier this month that the food crisis was expected to spiral into "emergency phase" in the capital Mogadishu, just one step short of famine on its classification scale of hunger.
The UN cited a lack of rain, high food prices and shrinking humanitarian aid -- combined with the ravages of war in the south, once the country's breadbasket -- for the slide toward famine.
- Vital aid at risk -
Fighting between Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab militants and government and international forces have forced thousands to flee to Mogadishu, where they live in basic makeshift shelters.
The Shebab has escalated its campaign of late, targeting key areas of Somalia's government and security forces, and also striking civilian targets inside neighbouring countries, including Kenya.
The aid agencies, in their statement on Sunday, called for "urgent and consistent" support over the next three to six months to avoid a recurrence of the 2011 disaster.
As of May, only 12 percent of the $933 million (690 million euros) needed to meet Somalia's annual humanitarian needs had been funded, the joint NGO statement said.
The percentage has since risen to 27 percent -- still well short of target, the agencies added.
"The current funding gap means that programmes addressing these needs and delivering vital basic services are at risk of shutting down."
Thirteen million people across the whole of the Horn of Africa were hit by extreme drought in 2011, but Somalia was worst affected, with famine zones declared in large parts of the war-ravaged south.
Then, it took 16 early warnings and a declaration of famine before "adequate funding" was released, the charities said. This year, eight warnings have already been issued.
Close to 260,000 people died in the country, half of them children under five, according to a UN-led study, which said the world should have done more to prevent the tragedy.