The UN's Country Team (UNCT) said the increase is particularly alarming because the so-called critical period - when current harvests normally run out - has not been reached.
"An increasing trend gives indication of a worsening nutritional and hence humanitarian situation," the UNCT said in its 'Focus on Ethiopia' report. It added that typically at this time of year, when the harvests have been brought in, the malnutrition rates should be falling - not slowly increasing.
"When food is not available the nutritional status is highly dependent on timely and adequate food aid distributions," the report said. "It will be essential that food is delivered on time and in sufficient quantity to avert a major crisis and loss of life in the coming two to three months."
Ethiopia is currently facing the prospect of some 11.3 million people needing food aid. In late December, the government along with the UN issued an urgent appeal for help.
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has also warned that the scale of the drought could eclipse that of 1984 when one million people died.
According to the Irish non-governmental organisation, CONCERN, alarming malnutrition rates - above 15 percent - have been reported in areas of Amhara region.
The increase comes as the World Food Programme said that less than half of the 1.4 million tonnes of relief food for 2003 had been covered so far.
The food is expected to last until the end of May but after that the international community will need to make more donations.
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