The worst drought in 60 years in the Horn of Africa is forcing thousands of people into camps in Kenya and Ethiopia, putting pressure on the United Nations, which is struggling to cope with the influx of people needing aid.

The UN is unable to say exactly how many people are on the move, but "the prognosis looks very poor indeed at the moment," UN refugee agency spokesman Adrian Edwards told reporters Tuesday in Geneva.

Kidnapped reporter returns to Africa

Former Canadian journalist Amanda Lindhout has returned to Africa for the first time since her kidnapping in Somalia in 2008, in order to raise awareness of the massive drought in the region, according to a release from the Global Enrichment Foundation, a non-governmental organization she founded in 2009.

She toured a refugee camp at the border of Kenya and Somalia on Tuesday as part of her role as executive director of the foundation.

Lindhout was kidnapped by gunmen in Somalia in 2008 and held for ransom for 15 months before being released.

Brian Stewart, who was one of the first journalists to alert the world to the Ethiopian famine in the 1980s, said Tuesday the area is particularly fragile and now has "the perfect storm" of factors going wrong, with weather change, rising food prices, and war and social unrest all having a dramatic effect.

Stewart is a senior fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs and a former CBC senior correspondent.

"You're getting all of these things coming together in an area that is incredibly fragile and has suffered giant droughts in the past and even famines in the past," Stewart told CBC News.

He said much aid is needed in the region.

"It really cannot stand on its own, and that's what's worrisome right now for the United Nations and other organizations — that the world cannot leave this area to stand on its own."

Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti, and newly created South Sudan have all been affected.

'Catastrophic' crisis, UN chief says

The human cost of the crisis is "catastrophic" UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday.

UN agencies have asked for $1.6 billion US to pay for life-saving programs in affected areas, but have only received half the amount, Ban said

"We cannot afford to wait," he said.

The UN chief called on countries to support the appeal and said he will personally contact member states to ask them to provide needed resources.

Mark Bowdon, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Somalia, said the UN's priority now is getting more food into camps, especially for the malnourished children. 

UNICEF said 65,000 children in Kenya alone are at acute risk of dying.

SomaliaHorn of Africa

"We are providing some assistance, but it's not enough," Bowden said. "Most of the reason for that is that we don't have the financial resources to increase the program as we need to at the moment."

The World Food Program expects that 10 million people will need food assistance in the coming weeks and estimates that around $477 million US will be needed to address the needs of the region through to the end of the year.

However, the food programs said it has a 40 per cent deficit in funding, with about $190 million US still needed.

Josette Sheeran, executive director of the WFP,  noted that funding for longer-term initiatives aimed at breaking the cycle of drought and disaster is also needed.

With files from The Associated Press