British international development secretary Priti Patel said the two countries will receive packages worth £100m each.
The world’s first famine since 2010-12 has already been declared in parts of South Sudan, with other areas at risk. Meanwhile aid agencies have been warning for weeks that over half of Somalia’s population (6.2 million people) are in dire need of food.
In conflict-hit regions in Nigeria, and across Yemen, millions of people could potentially slip into the most extreme phase of food insecurity later this year.
A famine is defined as a situation in which at least one in five households are suffering from an extreme lack of food and the impacts of this – severe hunger, destitution and death – are already evident.
Patel said that the world faces an “unprecedented” level of humanitarian crises, with the “real threat” of famine now present in four countries.
“These crises are being driven by conflict and drought, and we must respond accordingly,” she stated. “Our commitment to UK aid means that when people are at risk of dying from drought and disaster, we have the tools and expertise to avoid catastrophe.”
In Somalia, the UK’s Department for International Development said that all the signs are pointing to a famine as bad, or worse, than the one in 2011, which saw over 260,000 people die.
The £100m in UK aid will deliver emergency food for up to one million people and nutritional support to save the lives of more than 600,000 children and expectant or recent mothers. A further one million will receive safe drinking water, and 1.7 million emergency healthcare.
In South Sudan, where the number of people in need is expected to rise to 5.5 million, the UK will provide food assistance to half a million people, nutritional support to 27,500 children, safe drinking water for 300,000, and emergency health services for 100,000.
Three years of conflict in the country, compounded by drought, have decimated the country’s agriculture, leading to market failure and soaring food prices. The UK said its aid will also work to support the livelihoods of 650,000 people and vaccinate over 200,000 livestock.
Saira O’Mallie, interim UK director at anti-poverty group ONE, said: “This is UK aid at its best: addressing the toughest situations around the world, helping those in desperate circumstances and demonstrating our leadership in tackling crises.
“Priti Patel’s announcement is evidence that UK aid is helping to make the world a fairer place. Reaching out to those in need is absolutely the right choice, and it’s one that will make the UK, and the rest of the world, a safer and more stable place.”
The news comes amid increasingly heated debate about the UK’s £12bn aid budget, which some argue should be cut significantly.
Certain sections of the media have become increasingly hostile to UK aid in recent months – a development the country’s ex-foreign secretary and current president of the International Rescue Committee, David Miliband, will reportedly describe as populism at its worst in a speech today.