Somalia El Niño drought
A man looks at the carcasses of animals that died due to the El Niño-related drought in Marodijeex town of southern Hargeysa in northern Somalia's semi-autonomous Somaliland region, April 7, 2016. REUTERS/Feisal Omar

Nearly two dozen nongovernmental organizations working in Somalia appealed Tuesday for urgent aid to the drought-racked country. The pleas came ahead of meetings held by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Geneva to discuss preparing and responding to the devastating impact of El Niño.

The 23 humanitarian groups called for immediate action to avoid an even worse disaster than the famine that struck Somalia between 2010 and 2012 and left more than a quarter of a million people dead, according to Agence de Presse Africaine.

“At this time, we can best mitigate the impact of the drought crisis on affected populations by ensuring a concerted and collective effort from all actors (government, donors and humanitarian, etc.) to avoid a repeat of the 2011 famine tragedy,” Abdikadir Mohamud, Mercy Corps Somalia country director, said in a statement issued from Nairobi.

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U.N. member states were invited to partake in two consecutive panel discussions Tuesday morning as part of the world body’s Global Call for Support and Action on El Niño — a weather pattern that impacts rainfall patterns and temperatures around the world but most intensely in the tropical regions of Africa, the Asia-Pacific and Latin America. Some 60 million people in southern and eastern Africa are threatened by drought caused by the ongoing climate system, according to U.N. figures.

Somalia is no stranger to heat waves, and drought is becoming more frequent and severe in parts of Africa as climate change worsens. But that, combined with this year’s El Niño, is taking a deadly toll on locals. River beds have dried up, leaving millions of farmers and herders without water to quench their crops and livestock.

Weather agencies worldwide have said the current El Niño could become the strongest on record. The phenomenon, which is a warming of the equatorial Pacific Ocean, has affected rainfall across southern and eastern Africa over the past year.

Some rural communities on the continent are still recovering from previous systems. A La Niña-linked drought plagued the entire East Africa region from 2011 to mid-2012 and led to dire food insecurity, which threatened the livelihood of 9.5 million people. An estimated 260,000 people, half of them children, died from famine in Somalia, which was one of the most affected areas. As a result, tens of thousands of Somalis fled to overcrowded camps in Kenya, the United Nations said.

Somalis have made some progress on food security, but more than 65 percent of the population depends on livestock, and more than 731,000 people are estimated to be severely food insecure, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.