A report on food shortages in East Africa warns that as many as 12 million people in the region are in dire need of food assistance this year.

The authors of the just-released Greater Horn of Africa Food Security Bulletin say successive seasons of inadequate rainfall in parts of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and Tanzania are mostly to blame for creating severe food shortages in those countries.

The report, published with the cooperation of several organizations including the World Food Program and the U.S. Agency for International Development, names Ethiopia as the country most affected by the drought. It says about seven million people there are in desperate need of food aid because of continuing drought in some of the pastoral areas of the country.

Poor rainfall is also affecting 2 million people in rural areas of Tanzania and more than a million people in Eritrea and Kenya. Likewise, the report says a prolonged drought is threatening thousands of pastoral nomads and their livestock in the Sool plateau region of Somalia.

The Kampala-based regional food security advisor for the World Food Program, Robin Wheeler, notes that parts of East Africa are getting drier, creating more frequent drought cycles.

"At one time, one drought would not push people over the edge into needing food aid. However, the droughts in, for example, the Horn of Africa, have become much closer together," she explained. "We estimate that rather than every four to six years, it's more like every two to three years. The result is that the resilience of people is much lower and therefore, they're pushed over into food insecurity much more quickly."

In addition to poor rainfall, the report says on-going conflicts in some countries in the region, such as Sudan and Burundi, are contributing to the food crisis. Recent clashes in the western Darfur region of Sudan, for example, have disrupted humanitarian activities and forced nearly 100,000 people to abandon their homes in search of safety.

Mr. Wheeler, of the World Food Program, says that simply relying on outside aid and intervention will not solve the region's food shortages. He says much more research and effort will be needed to address the root causes.

"I think in many of these countries, the aid is not necessarily flowing until there's an emergency. And I think what's important now is there need to be longer term efforts to try to bring the countries' levels of food insecurity down and make sure areas that now do not have sustainable livelihoods develop them. Otherwise, it's a vicious circle," he said.

The food report also contains some good news for some parts of East Africa. The authors say good rainfall last year in southern Sudan, Rwanda, Uganda and the eastern and highland areas of Kenya should result in improved harvests in those areas.