By Katy Migiro
NAIROBI, May 24 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Hunger is likely to reach emergency levels in Ethiopia and the number in need of food aid will rise beyond the current 7.7 million, experts said, as drought has decimated livestock, rains have been erratic and aid is in short supply.
Prolonged drought, followed by floods, has pushed millions across East Africa into crisis, with 7 million in neighbouring Somalia also needing aid, the United Nations said as it grapples with the highest global hunger levels in decades.
"Despite enhanced rainfall at the end of April into early May over many areas of Ethiopia, food security outcomes are still expected to deteriorate," the U.S.-based Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) said on Wednesday.
Herders in southeastern Ethiopia will be worst hit over the next three months, it said, with hunger reaching the fourth "emergency" level on a five-phase scale, where the fifth level is famine.
"The current marginal improvements in pasture and water are likely to be depleted by early June, which will mean rangeland resources will rapidly decline, and subsequently livestock body conditions," it said, with the next rains due in October.
The number of Ethiopians who need food aid surged to 7.7 million from 5.6 million between January and April.
This number is expected to increase in the second half of the year, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said this week.
"Increased funding is needed urgently, in particular to address immediate requirements for clean drinking water, much of which is being delivered long distances by truck as regular wells have dried up," it said.
The Trump administration has proposed to drastically cut U.S. funding for global health and food aid programmes amid opposition from Congress.
(Reporting by Katy Migiro @katymigiro, editing by Alisa Tang. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women´s rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories.)