Islamist rebels have lifted a ban on humanitarian agencies supplying food aid to millions of Somalis after the worst drought in 60 years hit the Horn of Africa region, a spokesman for the insurgents said.

Somalia is experiencing pre-famine conditions, driving more than 1,000 people over the border into Kenya and Ethiopia each day, according to the United Nations.

‘We have now decided to welcome all Muslim and non-Muslim aid agencies to assist the drought-stricken Somalis in our areas,’ Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, Al Shabaab spokesman, told a news conference in Mogadishu.

‘All aid agencies whose objective is only humanitarian relief are free to operate in our area,’ Mr Rage said, adding they should first contact Al Shabaab's drought committee.

Al Shabaab fighters, who profess loyalty to al-Qaeda, control central and southern parts of the country. In the past, they said food aid created dependency.

The UN says 2.8 million people in Somalia need emergency aid. In the worst-hit areas, one in three children is suffering from malnutrition.

Local analysts in Somalia said Al Shabaab lifted the ban to generate money to fund their war effort. Al Shabaab previously told aid agencies to pay a hefty registration fee.

That has pushed increasing numbers of people to flee into government-controlled territory seeking assistance.

Irish assistance

The Irish Government yesterday announced a further €400,000 for emergency operations in the drought-stricken region of Horn of Africa.

Minister of State for Trade and Development, Jan O'Sullivan TD, approved the funding for CONCERN as part of an ongoing response operation by Irish Aid.

The funds will be used to provide food rations for 10,000 of the worst-affected people in Somalia, as well as treating 1,800 malnourished children.

This brings to €4.4m the total emergency funding from Irish Aid to the region in 2011.

In addition, 11 members of the Government's Rapid Response Corps have deployed to the Horn of Africa to work with humanitarian agencies.