U.N. officials say the number of Haitians in need of urgent food aid has spiked as a drought is exacerbated by the El Nino weather pattern.

The U.N. World Food Program says roughly 1.5 million Haitians are now considered severely insecure when it comes to food, more than double the figure from a government assessment in September.

Haiti is in its third year of drought. The situation has deteriorated because of a lack of rain blamed on El Nino, a warming of the tropical Pacific affecting global weather.

Program country director Wendy Bigham said Tuesday that the weather situation underscores how vulnerable many Haitians remain while experiencing "the most serious food crisis facing Haiti since 2001."

While Haiti relies heavily on imports, local harvests are critical for numerous communities.