Countries in the Horn of Africa, including Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia, are facing a famine because a drought is killing livestock and stunting crops.

The United Nations, aid agencies and the countries themselves are warning about a potential disaster affecting more than five million people.

Many children have been reduced to a meal a day, and the UN's World Food Programme is appealing for donations to feed millions of people to avoid a catastrophe.

"Pastoralists living in these arid, remote lands have very few survival strategies left and desperately require our assistance to make it through until the next rains," said Holdbrook Arthur, WFP's regional director for Eastern and Central Africa.

Hilary Benn, Britain's international development secretary, visited Kenya for three days this week and concluded "there are unacceptable levels of severe malnutrition in Kenya, and urgent action is needed ..."

The WFP recently estimated 2.5 million people in Kenya, 1.4 million in Somalia and 1.5 million in Ethiopia are victims of the drought.

The Kenyan government said 30 people have died from food shortages, and puts the figure at risk from the crisis at 3.5 million. More than half the country's 70 districts are affected.

Benn went to Wajir, in northeast Kenya near the border with Somalia, where children have been dying of starvation in the local hospital – six in the last two months of 2005, and three so far in January.

The people depend on their livestock to survive, but with the drought, there is no grass for emaciated animals to eat.

Nomadic herders who have watched their animals die came to the city of 400,000 in hopes that aid agencies would feed them.

The drought has become so severe that elephants are leaving Kenya's game preserves seeking water, putting them in conflict with villagers, the Kenya Wildlife Service warned.