More than 12 million people across Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia are in need of food aid, FAO has said.

The UN body yesterday warned the risks are massive and the costs high. It said response must be immediate.

“The magnitude of the situation calls for scaled-up action and coordination at the national and regional levels. This is, above all, a livelihoods and humanitarian emergency. The time to act is now. We cannot wait for a disaster like the famine in 2011,” FAO deputy director general for Climate and Natural Resources Maria Helena Semedo said.

Semedo spoke on behalf of FAO director general at a High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Situation in the Horn of Africa chaired by the United Nations secretary general Antonio Guterres on the sidelines of the 28th AU Summit in Addis-Ababa.

FAO estimates more than 17 million people need emergency food in Kenya, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda.

Areas of greatest concern are much of Somalia, northeastern and coastal Kenya, southeast Ethiopia. Others are the Afar region yet to recover from El Nino-induced drought of 2015-16, South Sudan and the Darfur region in Sudan, which has suffering protracted insecurity.

“The drought situation is extremely worrying, primarily in almost the entire Somalia, southern and southeastern Ethiopia and northern Kenya. With the next rains at least eight weeks away and the next main harvest not until July, millions are at risk,” Semedo said.

FAO assistant director general and regional representative for Africa Bukar Tijani said the situation is rapidly deteriorating and the number of people in need humanitarian assistance is likely to rise.

He said this will worsen as the drought undermines communities’ livelihoods, household assets and nutrition. In 2016, refugees and asylum seekers increased by more than 500,000 in the region.