Reports from Africa evoke memories of Ethiopia in 1984
The UN refugee agency the UNHCR has said some 20 million people, more than a fifth of them refugees, live in areas affected by drought.
Conflict is exacerbating the dangers, with displacement from South Sudan and Somalia.
The affected areas include Nigeria and the Lake Chad, with violence and instability caused by the radical group Boko Haram, and it stretches outside Yemen, conflicts in South Sudan and Somalia.
South Sudan’s northern Bahr el Ghazal region is said to be on the brink of starvation, with 290,000 people at risk of dying without sustained food assistance.
The stories of crowds of people flocking long distances to food distribution centres evoke memories of the horrendous famine in Ethiopia in 1984, when weakened and starving people desperately wandered around in search of food. That catastrophe motivated the Irish pop star Bob Geldof to launch a global fundraising campaign on behalf of the destitute.
Now foreign aid is needed to help with the current crisis.
The British foreign aid budget has come under serious scrutiny, including spending on projects that are criticised as frivolous or counter productive.
But direct assistance in situations like this is the sort of expenditure that few taxpayers would challenge.
These are problems that have brewing in areas such as Nigeria and South Sudan for a long time.
There are in fact problems across Africa, as its population soars towards two billion.
Many people feel in the West that it is for Africa to sort out its own problems, and that is not an unreasonable response, but even if the matter is only viewed from a pragmatic perspective the whole world will be affected by catastrophe on that continent.