A raging drought in Somalia could leave some 2.2 million people -- nearly 18 per cent of the country's population -- in severe hunger during the July-September period, global agency FAO has warned.
The warning came through a special FAO alert on Somalia, indicating that the number of hungry people in the Horn of Africa nation is this year expected to be 40 per cent higher than the estimates made at the beginning of the year.
A deteriorating nutritional status is also of major concern, according to the alert.
Acute malnutrition rates as well as the number of acutely malnourished children being admitted to therapeutic feeding centres have sharply increased since the beginning of the year, the agency said.
"Rains in April and early May can make or break Somalis' food security for the whole year as they are crucial for the country's main annual harvest in July, following the Gu rainy season," said Mario Zappacosta, FAO senior economist and lead of the Global Information and Early Warning System.
"A significant lack of rains in April and early May has rendered dry and barren up to 85 per cent of the croplands, and according to the latest projections, food grown during the Gu season is likely to be 50 per cent below average," he added.
The projection is based on data gathered by FAO experts -- including sophisticated analyses of rainfall, temperatures, water availability and vegetation health -- that point to the worst drought in years.
Some rains are expected in May, but these will be insufficient and arrive too late for crop and pasture recovery before the onset of the dry season.
For example, in Somalia's Lower Shabelle region, which produces more than 60 per cent of maize grown during the Gu season, severe dryness has prevailed so far, with only some scattered, below-average rains occurring in late April and early May.
Drought conditions also affected other major crop producing areas, including the Bay region's "sorghum belt," which accounts for more than half of the country's sorghum production during the Gu season, and the "cowpea belt" in Middle Shabelle, Mudug and Galgaduud regions.
Drought takes a heavy toll on herders and their livestock.
Poor rains since last October have also taken a heavy toll of herders and their livestock as vegetation has been drying up and water has been increasingly scarce.
The FAO alert warns of a worrying number of animals in very poor health conditions due to low body weight and drought-induced diseases.
"Herders in the worst drought-affected areas such as central Galgaduud and in northern Bari and Sanaag regions have been forced to slaughter the offspring of their goats and sheep as they don't have enough fodder and water for all their animals, and try to save the milk-producing female livestock," said FAO Somalia representative Serge Tissot.
"Many herders have not been able to replace livestock lost during the 2017 drought that ravaged the country, so they already have fewer resources," added Mr Tissot.