The United Nations is holding emergency talks today to generate more aid for famine-stricken East Africa.

The organisation says it needs £1b to help millions of people who are at risk of dying in the worst drought in 60 years.

The UN has declared a famine in two regions of southern Somalia amid drought and conflict that have left 3.7 million people, almost half the country’s population, in need of humanitarian assistance.

Famine in the Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions is the worst food-security crisis in the Horn of Africa nation since 1992, when 300,000 people died, according to Action Against Hunger, a New York-based humanitarian organization.

However, even if substantial aid can be raised, millions of the most desperate people can't be reached.

They are in areas of Somalia where conflict ensues between the Somali government and the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab militia.

Al Shabaab has renewed its vow to prevent international aid workers from operating in southern Somalia. It denies the famine is taking place.

The World Food Programme was forced to leave southern Somalia last year after threats from al Shabaab.

A famine is declared when malnutrition rates among children exceed 30 percent; more than two people per 10,000 die per day; and people are unable to access food and other basic necessities.

Speaking from Ethiopia one Somali refugee angrily rejected Al Shabab's denials of a famine.

“It is not true to say there is no famine. It has badly affected our livelihood, our children are severely malnourished and we had to sell all our livestock and our farms because of the drought. We are really suffering.”

People are so desperate escape hunger in Somalia that they are fleeing to already bursting refugee camps in Kenya, and also north to the Somali capital, Mogadishu, which has long been a battleground in the country's civil war.

One Somali said: “This drought has affected us mentally and psychologically. It has killed two of my children. They starved in front of my eyes. We had no property as we had already sold our land and farms in order to escape from the hunger.”

A Somali woman suffering in the drought, added Somalia was no longer safe.

“We fled the drought and were chased away by al Shabaab. We have nothing to go back to. Everything is lost.”

Josette Sheeran, head of the World Food program, said that millions of people were suffering because of militant rule.

“We are able to reach about 1.5 million people in Somalia but there are about 2.2 million that are not being able to be reached directly by humanitarian workers.”

The violence in Somalia means refugee camps neighbouring Kenya are likely to continue attracting thousands more refugees each week.

The largest camp at Dadaab, was built for 90,000 but is now home to 400,000 people.

It's the world's biggest refugee camp.

Sheeran, says she has met Somali women there who were forced to abandon their children because they were too weak to cross the border.

She says children who do make it to the camp are so weak and malnourished it's likely most of them will die.

“In Dadaab here we are reaching up to 400,000 people with food but now general food isn't enough for many of the children arriving. So what we are seeing is thousands of children in need of special supplementary nutrition and some of these children have been on the road with their mothers. We heard from mothers here their other children didn't make it but these children have but they really need increased supplemental foods.”

Millicent Mutuli from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees says more needs to be done to help people before they make the decision to leave.

“At the moment it looks like the only option people have is to leave and we need to give options, not only for those who are in Somalia so that they have the choice to remain, but also for the people who have come out here, that they have the option to return.”

The drought has also hit parts of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda. The UN says 12 million people face starvation.

The UN food agency and the Food and Agriculture Organisation are preparing to host talks in Rome today to drum up more support for the aid effort.

The one-day meeting was called by France, the current head of the Group of 20 countries.

However, so far, France has donated just £1.6million, while Italy has contributed £550,000, compared with £52million from Britain.

Australia has increased its contribution to the aid effort to £53m.

The conference won’t seek aid pledges, but instead “will look at possible measures to address the crisis,” the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) said.

The French agriculture minister, Bruno le Maire, says the conference must deliver to plug the shortfall.

“Even if we have a budget difficulties, we need to put some money to give a specific and concrete answer to this food crisis.”

On a visit to the region, Australia's Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, has urged other countries to donate so the UN can get into hard to access areas.

“This will be a complex, dangerous and risky task for which the members of UN humanitarian agencies should be commended for their dedication, their professionalism and their courage.”

“The United Nations chief Ban Ki Moon has called on donor countries to come up with more than one and a half billion dollars to tackle the famine.”