By Alex Whiting
ROME, Sept 27 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - More than 800,000 children risk death by starvation in East Africa and aid agencies have just weeks - months at most - to save them, World Vision charity said on Wednesday.
Conflict in South Sudan and Somalia, and prolonged drought across the region have left more than 15 million children in need of food, water, healthcare, education or protection, said the United Nations children's agency UNICEF.
Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya have witnessed a spike in hunger levels among children in recent weeks, with several areas reporting that more than a third of their children have health problems as a result, World Vision said in a statement.
"We are still in the danger zone. More than 800,000 children remain severely malnourished and are at risk of starving to death," said Christopher Hoffman, World Vision's humanitarian response director in East Africa.
"We have months, maybe only weeks, to stop this from happening," he said, as World Vision - the world's largest international children's charity - launched its second appeal in six months for the region.
"We're seeing emaciated children, nearly skeletons, lying in pain in hospital beds ... We're seeing mothers unable to breastfeed because they are malnourished themselves," he said.
Famine struck parts of South Sudan earlier this year, and there is a high risk that it could return there and develop in Somalia, U.N. agencies said earlier this month.
"The hunger crisis is wreaking havoc on 24 million people (in East Africa) - more than the population of Berlin, London, Chicago and Bangkok combined," said Hoffman.
Much of Somalia is experiencing emergency hunger levels, which is one level below famine on an internationally-recognised scale of hunger.
Drought has forced more than 890,000 people to leave their homes between November and August, on top of 160,000 who fled fighting.
The displaced are particularly vulnerable to hunger, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.
Rains are due to begin in October, it said on Tuesday.
(Reporting by Alex Whiting @Alexwhi, Editing by Katy Migiro and Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)
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