By Nita Bhalla
NAIROBI, Jan 17 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - About 6.2 million people in Somalia - half the population - need emergency aid, such as food, water and shelter, due to unprecedented drought and ongoing conflict, the United Nations said on Wednesday, appealing for $1.6 billion.
The drought - spanning four consecutive poor rainy seasons - has forced millions from their homes and left hundreds of thousands of children malnourished. One in four people in the Horn of Africa nation faces the risk of hunger.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said donors raised enough funds in 2017 to avert famine and stave off an outbreak of cholera, but the situation was set to worsen this year without sufficient aid.
"We are likely to see sectors such as shelter being sub-funded, and then you will see people out in the open, with no adequate shelter - and having very little to conduct their lives with," said Peter de Clercq, head of OCHA in Somalia.
"We will also see more children with acute malnutrition, and there will be less children in school," he said by video conference from Mogadishu, the Somali capital.
Somalia's 2011 famine killed 260,000 people, half of whom died before the official declaration of famine, caused by drought, war and lack of access for humanitarian aid.
The country has been mired in conflict since 1991. Its weak, Western-backed government is struggling to assert control over poor, rural areas under the Islamist militant group al Shabaab - challenging the delivery of aid to the most needy.
Somali Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khayre thanked the international community for the $1.3 billion raised last year, but warned there was no room for complacency.
"We face similar challenges and risks this year and the years to follow," said Hassan.
"Drought and conflict will continue to affect the lives of millions of Somalis. They will continue to displace thousands more. I request on behalf of the government and Somali people for continued support from international partners."
(Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla, Editing by Katy Migiro. 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)
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