UNITED NATIONS, Feb. 2 (Xinhua) -- "There are new warnings that the humanitarian situation has further deteriorated in Somalia and there are worrying signs that famine is possible in the country this year," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters here Thursday.
The UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says the number of people in need of assistance in Somalia has increased to 6.2 million -- roughly half of the population, Dujarric said at a daily news briefing here.
"Nearly three million people are classified as facing crisis and emergency food insecurity," he said.
Acute malnutrition levels remain high with 363,000 malnourished children under the age of five; including 71,000 who are severely malnourished and face increased risk of morbidity and death, he noted.
The UN humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, Peter de Clercq, warned in a statement issued earlier Thursday that unless a massive and urgent scale up of humanitarian assistance takes place in the coming weeks, famine could soon hit some of the worst drought-affected areas in the Horn of African country.
Last December, Clercq said the 2016 Humanitarian Response Plan seeking 885 million U.S. dollars is only 47 percent funded four weeks before the end of the year while worsening drought conditions have left hundreds of thousands of Somalis facing severe food and water shortages.
The UN official highlighted the urgency of responding to the drought situation in Somalia, noting that drought in Puntland and Somaliland has deepened and spread to southern and central regions of the country.
According to the UN, 5 million Somalis -- more than 40 percent of the country's population -- do not have sufficient food.
In addition, over 320,000 children under five are acutely malnourished, including more than 50,000 severely malnourished.