By Umberto Bacchi
LONDON, Jan 30 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Millions of people do not have enough to eat and need urgent assistance in several countries across the Horn of Africa due to drought and conflict, according to the United Nations.
In Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya almost 12 millions are struggling to feed themselves because of repeated rain failures that have led to poor harvests and livestock deaths, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said.
FAO said pre-famine alert has been issued for Somalia and warned that swift action was needed to avoid a repeat of the famine that killed nearly 260,000 people in 2011.
"The time to act is now," said FAO's deputy director-general Maria Helena Semedo. "We cannot wait for a disaster like the famine in 2011".
Here are some facts about the food crisis in the region:
* Five million Somalis, about 40 percent of the population, do not have enough to eat because of poor rains and fighting between al Shabaab and Somalia's African Union-backed government.
* Both of Somalia's 2016 rainy seasons were poor and forecasts predict below average rains to continue into 2017.
* The Shabelle River, which flows from Ethiopia, into Somalia and is an important source of water for livestock and agriculture, was almost 60 percent below average level in mid- January.
* Poor rains have hindered agricultural production, with January harvests expected to be among the lowest on record, 60-70 percent below the average for the last five years.
* Drought is pushing up prices of staple cereals, with maize and sorghum being sold at 51 percent and 88 percent more than their average prices at markets in the south.
* Nearly 260,000 died during the famine that hit Somalia between October 2010 and April 2012 - about half of them children under five.
* Some 5.6 million people are facing food shortages in Ethiopia, which was hard hit by drought induced by the El Nino weather phenomenon in 2016.
* An estimated 1.3 million people are in need of food aid in Kenya, where a drought in 2014 was followed by two years of poor rains.
* The Kenya Red Cross has predicted the number of Kenyans without enough to eat will almost double by April to 2.4 million, as dry weather conditions are set to continue. Sources: United Nations; FAO; Kenya Red Cross Society and Famine Early Warning Systems Network.
(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Ros Russell.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)