The international aid agency Oxfam, has warned of dire consequences from the drought that has hit parts of East Africa for the sixth year in a row.
The NGO has said Somalia's drought was the worst for 20 years, and November rainfall had been less than 5 per cent of normal in parts of Kenya and Ethiopia.
But an Ethiopian minister has subsequently denied reports that millions of people need urgent food aid after failed rains. He was speaking after the US-funded Famine Early Warning System warned of increased hunger in parts of the country in the coming months.
Ethiopia has been extremely sensitive to images showing its people as starving since the famine of 1984-5. But community, relief and development groups say that the situation is serious.
Oxfam highlights large parts of the Turkana region of northern Kenya as having just 12mm of rain in the last three months - leaving almost one person in three malnourished.
The crisis is most severe in parts of Somalia, where worsening conflict and the drought have left 3.6 million people - nearly half the country's population - in need of aid.
The other worst affected areas are in the Gambella and Afar regions, NGOs agree.
Oxfam says high food prices, poor livestock production and low agricultural wages will lead to increased hunger. Its latest report and comments come after the failure of both rainy seasons in 2009.
The United Nations has already said it is aiming to feed 20 million people in East Africa over the next six months.