Four million of those at risk are in Kenya, where one person in 10 survives on emergency rations.
Drought is especially disastrous in Ethiopia because more than 80% of its people live off the land. Agriculture drives the economy, accounting for half of all domestic production and for most exports.
Ethiopia's minister for agriculture and rural development, Mitiku Kassa, appealed to donors yesterday for more than $121-million.
In January, he said that 4.9million of the 85million population needed emergency food aid.
Twenty-five years ago, famine killed a million Ethiopians and prompted one of the biggest charity campaigns in history, including the Live Aid concert.
Though drought is nothing new to this part of Africa, what is different is the frequency with which it hits.
Drought used to come around every 10 years, but it is now almost constant. Many attribute the changing pattern to climate change.
The struggle with cyclical drought is compounded by the dependence on rain-fed agri-culture and archaic farming practices.
This year's drought appears to be slightly less severe than last year's, the effects of which were exacerbated by high food prices.
A year ago, Mitiku appealed for aid to feed 6.4million people affected by drought.
Many humanitarian groups have said in recent years that they believe that the number of people affected by hunger is higher than government estimates.
Because of the size of Ethiopia and its poor infrastructure, observers have difficulty in collecting data.
The worst-affected areas in the east are racked by a fierce insurgency and are off-limits to journalists.
Aid groups say their movements in these areas are restricted by the military.
The aid group Oxfam said that donor countries must focus on preparing Ethiopian communities to prevent and deal with drought and other disasters before they strike, and that Ethiopia should not be reliant on imported aid.