International aid agency Oxfam has urged Government to increase its aid contribution toward addressing a rapidly deteriorating drought crisis killing thousands of people in East Africa.

United Nations (UN) estimates show more than 560,000 people are at risk of starving to death in the crisis hitting Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti.

The number of people in need could soon rise by 25 per cent to more than 15 million without urgent action from governments, it predicted.

New Zealand has so far contributed $3 million toward drought crisis relief, including a $2 million donation announced by Foreign Minister Murray McCully in July.

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Australia has contributed $9.5 million, while the US and Britain have given $398 million and $111 million respectively, figures from the UN Financial Tracking Service show.

Oxfam New Zealand's Executive Director Barry Coates said those contributions were not enough to stop the crisis escalating.

"The humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa is at the tipping point.

"Hundreds of thousands will face starvation unless donors step forward, maintain the generosity we have seen in recent weeks and help prevent a catastrophe."

Mr McCully said the Government was continually assessing the crisis and would consider contributing more aid if it worsened.

A spokesman for the minister said New Zealand's aid contributions measured well against other countries when compared to population.

UN figures show about $1.26 billion in aid has been given to address the Horn of Africa drought crisis. But a further $1.4 billion was still needed.

Oxfam New Zealand worker Janna Hamilton saw the far reaching effects of the drought first hand when she arrived in the town of Dadaab-Kenya this week.

"It's hard to comprehend the scale of this crisis," she said. "The rows of tents just stretch on for kilometres and up to 1500 people continue to arrive each day. There's certainly no short fix to this crisis."

Oxfam New Zealand just lifted its fundraising goal for the Horn of Africa to $500,000.

Donations can be made at www.oxfam.org.nz/hornofafrica or by calling 0800 400 666.


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