Tens of thousands of Ethiopians are on the brink of starving to death because of a massive food shortage.
Some 3,200 children and women have been admitted to food treatment programmes in one southern region in recent weeks as the effects of an eight-month drought take hold of rural communities.
Soaring global food prices have compounded the crisis.
Abraham Asha, of Irish aid agency Concern, said the figures were “frightening”.
He added: “In three years from 2005 to 2007 we had 1,716 severely malnourished children in our outpatient therapeutic programme (OTP).
“In the last 10 weeks we have had 1,160, with 661 of those admitted in June.
“In the same three weeks, 2,571 beneficiaries received supplementary feeding programme (SFP) food for moderate malnourishment.”
Up to 50 children are turning up for this help every day and over the next three months numbers will rise.
“The very old and young could die if this drought continues,” he said.
In 2003, some 14.3 million people were affected by a similar crisis.
Humanitarian workers said that since then life for Ethiopians had been good, but their situation is deteriorating rapidly and this year and next could be worse if the drought continued.
Aid agencies on the ground were struggling to meet demand as more desperate people arrived at health clinics.
Concern, Ireland’s largest non-governmental organisation (NGO), is reaching people across the southern SNNP region – the most densely populated region in Ethiopia with about 15 million of its 77 million residents.
It has launched an emergency appeal to raise at least €2m to take food and vital supplies to those worst effected.