The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) in the UK has launched an East Africa Crisis Appeal as at least 16 millions people are facing hunger in the region. Violence, instability and a drought exacerbated by climate change are pushing people in South Sudan, Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia toward starvation and death.

Leading UK aid agencies, including World Vision, Islamic Relief and Save the Children, announced a joint fundraising appeal to help millions of people who are in urgent need of food, clean water and medical treatment.

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"Hunger on a massive scale is looming across East Africa. More than 800,000 children under five are severely malnourished. Without urgent treatment, they are at risk of starving to death," DEC Chief Executive, Saleh Saeed, said.

"We are hearing that families are so desperate for food that they are resorting to eating leaves to survive. This is something no family should have to endure. Unless we act now the number of deaths will drastically increase. Don't delay – please donate," he continued.

The UK government said it will match pound for pound the first £5m donated by the public to DEC's East Africa Crisis Appeal.

"In 2017, we face an unprecedented challenge with millions of people stalked by the scourge of famine. Britain has acted without hesitation – UK aid funded food, water and emergency healthcare is being delivered across East Africa right now, but more support is urgently needed to prevent a catastrophe," International Development Secretary Priti Patel said.

"The international community must now follow Global Britain's lead to save lives and stop the famine before it becomes a stain on our collective conscience. The world cannot afford to wait," she continued.

South Sudan was the first country to declare a famine since 2011. The famine has been linked to a prolonged civil war that has killed thousands and displaced millions since 2013. At least 100,000 people are facing starvation in Unity State – in the upper Nile region – and millions across the country are plagued by food insecurity.

Half of the population in Somalia is also on the brink of starvation. Two consecutive seasons of poor rainfall have resulted in severe water shortages, a drop in food production, livestock deaths and rising costs of food that is pushing the country towards a famine just six years after some 260,000 people starved to death in the East African nation.

More than 13 million people are currently in need of food assistance in Ethiopia - one of the countries worst hit by the drought - amid fears the number will increase.

At least 2.7 million people have also been affected in drought-ravaged Kenya, where tensions over control of water have become violent.