"About five million children under the age of five are estimated to be facing acute malnutrition in 2023 in the Horn region, in the Greater Horn. That is about 10.4 million, that is just a staggering figure," a UN statement issued Monday quoted Liesbeth Aelbrecht, incident manager for the greater Horn of Africa emergency at the World Health Organization (WHO), as saying.
The UN humanitarian agencies, in a joint statement, warned that climate concerns are key to food security in the coming months.
Global forecasts indicate that El Nino weather pattern conditions are already present and will strengthen through the rest of the year, which could bring above-average rains during the October-to-December rainy season across eastern parts of the region, including much of Kenya, the Somali region of Ethiopia, and Somalia.
"El Nino may somewhat reduce the risk of flooding in flood-prone areas such as South Sudan," the statement quoted Brenda Lazarus, food security and early warning economist at Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Subregional Office for Eastern Africa, as saying.
According to UN figures, the 60 million people severely food insecure include more than 15 million women of reproductive age, 5.6 million adolescent girls and close to 1.1 million pregnant women.
Close to 360,000 of them are expected to give birth in the next three months, according to the UN.
Women who are forced to look for food just to survive "do so at the expense of their own health," the statement quoted Michael Ebele, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) regional humanitarian adviser for East and Southern Africa, as saying.
The UN said malnutrition among pregnant and lactating mothers puts their unborn and breast-feeding children at risk of malnutrition and propagates malnutrition through entire life cycles in communities.
Malnourished mothers are also less able to withstand complications in pregnancy which will put them at greater risk of losing their child.