ROME, ITALY — As famine spread to three more areas of southern Somalia and threatened to engulf the whole of the country's south, United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) warned that immediate action is needed to save the lives and livelihoods of millions of farmers and pastoralists across the drought-struck Horn of Africa.

FAO's Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit for Somalia (FSNAU) and USAID's Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) announced on Aug. 5 that famine has struck three new areas of southern Somalia - Balcad and Cadale districts of Middle Shabelle, the Afgoye corridor IDP settlement, and the Mogadishu IDP community.

All other regions of southern Somalia are in the grip of a humanitarian emergency which has caused thousands of deaths. The emergency is part of a wider drought and conflict-induced crisis in the Horn of Africa that threatens the lives and livelihoods of some 12.4 million people in Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya and millions more in neighboring countries.

South Somalia's three new famine areas join the Bakool zone and the Lower Shabelle region, which were declared famine-struck on July 20. Famine indicators include death rates exceeding two deaths per 10,000 people per day and acute malnutrition rates in excess of 30%.

Famine is expected to spread across all regions of the south in the coming four to six weeks and is likely to persist until at least December 2011.

Continued efforts to implement an immediate, large-scale, and comprehensive response are needed, FAO said. In Somalia, 3.7 million people are in crisis, with 3.2 million people in need of immediate, lifesaving assistance (2.8 million in the south).

FAO is seeking funds to protect the most vulnerable households in Somalia with a mix of interventions designed to save lives and livelihoods in the short-term and build food security over the longer haul.

Short-term measures include seeds, inputs and tools distributions for the October Deyr planting season, support to animal health through provision of drugs, vaccines and training, and food-for-work programs and cash transfers.

Longer-term measures, designed to build greater resilience to drought and climate change include the development of drought-resistant seeds, the improvement of dryland crop and livestock production systems, development of irrigation infrastructure, improved storage and more effective water and pasture management.

FAO noted that it has been working effectively in the areas most affected by the current crisis, including Somalia where other organizations and agencies have faced severe restrictions in access.

The crisis in the Horn of Africa is the most severe food security emergency in the world today. Thousands of people have died since its onset, following a complete failure of seasonal rainfall in October-December 2010.

The situation has been exacerbated by protracted conflicts that over time have forced millions of people to flee their homes, abandoning land, livestock and other productive assets.