HADAWE, Ethiopia -- Only the last of Hawo Abdi Subed's 40 camels made it to the village. Collapsed on the stones, it knelt unmoving while the old woman unloaded what was left of her family goods, and her family, after three children died along the way.

Hawo, the eldest of a band of mostly women and children, had trekked for days to the nearest village in hopes of aid -- like thousands of other ethnic Somali herders streaming in from the drought-devastated plains of southeastern Ethiopia.She quickly learned that life was no better in the village, about 20 miles from the region's still minimal relief center of Gode.

"We came because we had no milk for the children. But they say they have no food here," Hawo said.

Village elder Mahamed Mahamud Gure could only record the numbers of the latest newcomers in a faded notebook, the same notebook in which he records their names when they die -- as 389 did in the past two months, according to his figures.

When the aid groups come, if the aid groups come, he wants to be able to show them.

"We are in very great want and difficulty. If anyone asks me, I want to be able to inform them," Gure said. "I want them to know."

The land has grown so hard that the people sometimes give up on digging proper graves and have resorted to shoving corpses into holes dug in termite mounds, he said. "Twenty-five are in there," he said, pointing at one with his cane.

The drought threatens millions more people across the Horn of Africa, according to the U.N. World Food Program. An estimated 150,000 are in danger in Djibouti and 350,000 in Eritrea. As many as 425,000 people in Somalia would need food shipments if April rains fail, and 2.7 million in northern Kenya are hungry and urgently need donations, the WFP says.

Like the 7.7 million estimated in danger in Ethiopia, many of the first- and hardest-hit in those nations are nomadic herders.

Three years of sparse rains have killed virtually all the cattle on which Ethiopia's ethnic Somali herders draw meat, milk and life. Lush years immediately before the drought tempted many to trade their traditional camels for cattle, less hardy but more productive.

Modern borders and development have constricted migrations that used to range as far as northeast Uganda to a 60-mile-by-60-mile patch of land. That limits foraging in bad years.

Wracked by war and ongoing rebel conflicts, distrusted by the government in Addis Ababa, 620 miles and two days' drive away on miserable roads, the region and its people have little power to press for improvements that would help curb the accelerating cycles of famine.

The foreign community encouraged creation of emergency food reserves after up to 1 million people died in Ethiopia's 1984-85 famine. But gaps in donations of food or money into the relief pipeline mean aid to the nomads has slowed to a trickle in recent months.

Assistance threatens to stop entirely in June, aid agencies warned last month. That set off an international alarm, but so far it seems to have drawn far more journalists than aid workers.

The herders can't wait months; thousands gathering in Hadawe, Denan and other communities in Ethiopia's southeastern Somali region seem unlikely to make it weeks or even days.

"This child is going to die," said Bisharo Sheek Abdi -- speaking of her own child. The 4-year-old girl, a bundle of bones topped with the yellow hair of malnutrition, still was avidly alive enough to drink thirstily of the water that is all her mother has to give her. "Or maybe she will live."

The girl is the last alive of her parents' four children. The family shelters under the hides of the last two of the 40 cows they used to own -- all now dead as well. The cloth and plastic bags hanging on the walls of the hut hold only more bags, no food.