Meteorological agencies, including the world weather group and its humanitarian partners, issued a joint alert on Tuesday that starvation looms in northeastern Africa after four failed rainy seasons.
"We are particularly concerned that the situation will worsen," World Meteorological Organization spokesperson Clare Nullis said at a UN press conference.
She said that the Food and Agriculture Organization led a statement issued on behalf of 14 other UN agencies, including the WMO, UNICEF the UN children's agency, the humanitarian body OCHA, the World Food Program, and the UN refugee agency.
"In this alert, we say that the current extreme, widespread, and persistent multi-season drought out, which is affecting Somalia, parts of Kenya, and Ethiopia, is unprecedented," said Nullis.
UN agencies such as the World Food Programme have warned that the failure to get grain and wheat to import-dependent African countries due to the Russian-led war in Ukraine made the situation more dire.
Four consecutive rainy seasons have failed, a climatic event unseen in at least 40 years.
"What is really concerning now, and this is where the WMO community comes in, the latest, long lead seasonal forecasts, supported by a wide community of metrological experts, indicate now that there is a genuine risk that the October to December rainy season could also fail," said Nullis.
According to the WMO, the 2022 March-May rainy season appears likely to be the driest on record, devastating livelihoods and driving sharp increases in food, water, and nutrition insecurity.
3.6 million stock died
An estimated 3.6 million livestock have died in Kenya (1.5 million) and Ethiopia (2.1 million).
In the worst-affected areas of Somalia, it is estimated that one-out-of-three livestock has perished since mid-2021.
Nullis said that more than one million people have been displaced in Somalia and southern Ethiopia.
"Obviously, the impact on livelihoods has been devastating. The impact on people's health, livestock, and pastureland have been really terrible," the WMO official said.
Existing water deficits have been exacerbated by very high air temperatures, which are forecast to continue into the June-September dry season.
"A large body of experts estimates that 16.7 million people currently face high food insecurity and projects figures to increase to 20 million by September.
"Even if we get good rains in the October to December rainy season, conditions won't recover quick enough before the end of the year."
In cropping areas, harvests will again be well below average, causing a prolonged dependency on markets, where households will have limited food access due to high food prices, the WMO said.