The situation was the worst seen by the group of international and Somali non-governmental organisations and was expected to deteriorate further.
“As NGOs who have worked in Somalia for decades, we are accustomed to the daily struggle to survive that is the reality for most Somalis,” they said in a letter yesterday, warning that upcoming rains would add to the misery.
“However, never before have we faced such acute suffering with so many lives at stake. Somalia is at a turning point.”
The signatories included Oxfam, the International Rescue Committee, ACF International, Caritas Switzerland, World Vision, Medecins du Monde France, the Danish Refugee Council and the Mines Advisory Group.
The UN has declared six regions in south Somalia to be famine zones.
The letter also repeated an earlier UN warning that 750,000 people faced death from starvation in the next four months.
“The spread of cholera, measles and malaria will have a devastating effect on malnourished men, women and children,” the letter says.
Restrictions on the delivery of aid is blocking efforts to support those in need in Somalia, the aid agencies said, calling for “free passage of assistance”.
Extremist al Shabaab fighters pulled out of positions in the capital Mogadishu last month but still control swathes of south and central Somalia.
Drought, high food prices and fighting has increased the number of those in need of humanitarian assistance across the Horn of Africa to 13.3m, the UN says.
Meanwhile, a Somalia expert at Davidson College in North Carolina in the US said in a paper released yesterday that US President Barack Obama needs to lead an international effort to open food aid corridors.
Ken Menkhaus said that the Responsibility to Protect doctrine should be invoked.
“Unless the international response changes, the 2011 Somali famine will be to the Obama administration what the 1994 Rwandan genocide was to the Clinton administration — a terrible stain, an unforgivable instance of lack of political will to push policy beyond incrementalism,” he said.