Scores of Somali children are dying on the journey or within a day of arrival at refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia, as they flee the region's worst drought in decades, the UN's refugee agency said yesterday.
High levels of malnutrition, combined with violence in the war-torn Horn of Africa nation, are threatening "a human tragedy of unimaginable proportions", the UNHCR warned.
After several seasons of failed rains and rising global food prices, drought has hit more than 12 million people across Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya.
Thousands of Somali refugees are making perilous journeys of hundreds of miles to seek assistance.
Levels of serious malnutrition among newly-arrived children in Ethiopia are exceeding 50pc, while in Kenya levels are reaching 30 to 40pc.
Many refugees arriving in Kenya are streaming into Dadaab, the world's largest refugee camp, which was already overflowing before the latest crisis. Reports suggest that young children are dying as families wait to be registered.
"People are making incredibly gruelling journeys: some are walking for more than 20 days without food or water, facing attacks from armed groups or wild animals," Andrew Wander, the emergency media manager for Save the Children said.
Government representatives warned that the situation could deteriorate further.
"We haven't seen the worst of this drought yet," said Mohamed Elmi, the minister for development of northern Kenya. Underscoring the severity of the crisis, Islamist militants in Somalia have lifted a two-year-long ban on foreign aid agencies.