'Up to 50 million' in Africa could face food shortage crisis by Christmas

Up to 50 million people in Africa could face a food shortage crisis by Christmas as the continent is in the grip of a severe drought, the UN has warned.

Severe weather conditions caused by the worst El Niño - a weather phenomenon that affects rainfall patterns - in 30 years are worsening and drought has ravaged crops and driven up food prices.

More than 31 million need food now and 20 million more are likely to run out this year, the UN said.

A further 10 million people in Ethiopia, six million in southern Sudan and five million in Yemen were in danger of starvation after floods and drought, it added.

Stephen O’Brien, the UN’s humanitarian chief, told The Observer: “The collective impact of the El Niño phenomenon has created one of the world’s biggest disasters for millions of people, yet this crisis is receiving little attention.

“The numbers are staggering. One million children in eastern and southern Africa alone are severely acutely malnourished, and across southern Africa 32 million people need assistance and that figure is likely to increase.”

The UN predicts that food will start running out on a large scale by July, with the crisis peaking between December and next April.