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Lower than expected temperatures during March and early April limited the severity of flooding

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Afghanistan
  • April 2017
Lower than expected temperatures during March and early April limited the severity of flooding

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  • Key Messages
  • Current situation
  • Updated assumptions
  • Projected outlook through September 2017
  • Key Messages
    • Precipitation was above-average throughout the country for February and March, except for parts of Takhar Province, per satellite-based estimates. Seasonal forecasts indicate a likelihood for average to above-average cumulative precipitation during the remaining weeks of the wet season. Although these factors are likely to facilitate rainfed wheat production, continued monitoring of the quantity and distribution of rainfall in different areas remains critical in understanding the likely impact of the ongoing season on food security outcomes. 

    • Above-average precipitation during the peak of the wet season led to near-record snowpack in several basins, and above-average snowpack in nearly all basins monitored. As of April 18 2017, USGS monitoring products indicate average to above-average snowpack throughout the country. Water availability is very likely to be sufficient throughout the country for the normal development of main season irrigated crops, primarily wheat.

    • Food security outcomes for the majority of poor households and those who rely on market purchases are likely to improve gradually over the next three months, as the annual lean season comes to an end with primary harvests and increased labor opportunities. 

    • In 2016, more than 660,000 people were displaced due to conflict. Continued fighting between the government and insurgent forces has resulted in displacement of more than 50,000 people in early 2017, primarily in eastern, northern, and southern regions. Many newly displaced households are likely in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    • A total of 120,000 undocumented Afghans spontaneously returned or were deported from Iran between January 1 and April 15, 2017. Although some of the undocumented returnees have received assistance from humanitarian agencies, many have not accessed humanitarian assistance amidst the rapid increase in needs and continued conflict environment, and are likely facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes during the coming months. Similarly, many undocumented returnees from Pakistan who have not received humanitarian assistance are likely facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes as they attempt to establish new livelihoods within Afghanistan.

    Current situation

    Total imports of wheat flour, primarily from Kazakhstan and Pakistan, have remained largely stable despite the temporary border closures with Pakistan at the Torkham (Nangarhar Province) and Spin Boldak (Kandahar Province) crossings. The mostly normal flow of imports has helped maintain stable prices for wheat and wheat flour, facilitating food access for poor households who rely on market purchases during this time of year. For very poor and poor households, food stocks were expected to run low beginning in January, as is typical. Beginning in April, many households have begun engaging in seasonal labor migration to earn income after the winter, while pastoralists began grazing their animals. This seasonal increase in income opportunities and increased availability of livestock products typically improves household access to food and income, helping them move past the annual lean season.

    Although the very dry start to the wet season from October – December 2016 led to delayed planting of winter wheat in some areas of northern, northeastern, and western regions, above-average precipitation during the peak months of the wet season led to above-average snowpack throughout the country, with record accumulation in some basins. It is expected that the availability of water for irrigation will remain sufficient for the normal development of main season irrigated crops, and will likely facilitate the normal development of second-season crops.

    On average, rainfed wheat production accounts for 25 percent of domestic wheat production in Afghanistan, with substantial year-to-year variation depending on weather conditions. It is also a primary livelihood activity for many poor households in rainfed areas. Typically, farmers plant spring wheat in late March and early April. This year, planting took place earlier in March in many areas, particularly in northern, northeastern, and northwestern Afghanistan, largely due to above-average temperatures in lower elevation areas since late January. Reports indicate that planted area under winter and spring wheat is similar to last year. Spring wheat sowing in rainfed areas throughout the country, particularly in northern, northwestern, and parts of northeastern Afghanistan, has increased labor opportunities, facilitating market purchases of food for poor households. Due to above average rainfall throughout the country in February and March (Figure 3), soil conditions for planting and early crop development were generally favorable. Seasonal forecasts for the remaining weeks of the wet season indicate a likelihood for average to above-average cumulative precipitation.

    Well-distributed precipitation throughout much of the country has facilitated good pasture growth, permitting pastoralists and agropastoralists to move livestock into spring grazing areas with normal seasonal timing. This has allowed many households to preserve remaining fodder stocks for next year. With spring livestock births, the availability of milk and milk products increases. Livestock births are reported to be higher than last year due to mild winter temperatures and sufficient availability of fodder during the winter, which has supported livestock body conditions.

    Spring flooding affects some households every year, with parts of eastern and northern Afghanistan being the most vulnerable. However, this year most of the limited flooding has occurred in parts of western and northeastern Afghanistan, affecting approximately 17,000 people. Households affected by the flooding and much smaller numbers of people affected by avalanche and landslides and who are not receiving assistance, are likely facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    Many people who were displaced in 2016, either due to conflict within Afghanistan or by returning from Pakistan and Iran, are beginning to find income-earning opportunities during the spring, and are likely mitigating outcomes to Stressed (IPC Phase 2). However, ongoing fighting between the government and insurgent forces continues to result in new displacement, primarily in eastern, northern, and southern regions. Many newly displaced households are likely facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and are in need of urgent assistance to protect livelihoods and mitigate food consumption gaps.

    Updated assumptions

    Most of the assumptions used to develop FEWS NET’s most likely scenario for the period of February to September 2017 remain valid. However, the following assumption has been modified to reflect the improvement in seasonal precipitation:

    • Cumulative precipitation during the remainder of the wet season through May is expected to be average to above-average. Spring rains are expected to have normal timing and distribution, with minimal adverse impact on typical agricultural activities. 

    Projected outlook through September 2017

    Main season harvests, primarily for wheat, will begin in May and continue through September at the higher elevations. Many rural households in the northern and western regions still have food stocks from the near-average 2016 harvest, and will be able to replenish stocks during this year’s harvest. Some households will sell some grain, supporting market supply.

    Prior to main season harvests, food consumption needs will be primarily satisfied by household reserves or through purchases with savings from earlier in the year, or from year-round sources of income such as formal employment with various branches of the government including the military, the police, or, in some cases, remittances.

    In higher elevations, poor households’ food stocks are likely to be depleted by May. As is typical, these households will sell some of their livestock in order to purchase food between May and local grain harvests in September. With livestock prices largely favorable and an anticipated peak in demand for livestock with Ramadan (May 25th to June 26th), it is expected that most poor households will be able to procure sufficient quantities of food during this period.

    Prices for wheat grain and wheat flour are likely to remain mostly stable through June, after which they will experience a seasonal decline due to the main season harvests. Traders are expected to continue to import normally from Kazakhstan and Pakistan. Along with continued displacement due to conflict and insecurity, road access will also remain difficult for trade and the provision of humanitarian assistance. The seasonal increase in the prevalence of various human illnesses is likely to lead to increased prevalence of acute malnutrition between April and June, although this seasonal increase is not directly related to food access or availability.

    As a result of primarily normal seasonal progress and in the absence of large-scale food price or weather-related shocks, most areas are expected to remain in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity throughout the period. However, many internally displaced persons (IDPs), undocumented returnees, and households affected by natural disasters who have lost access to land will be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3), as well as very poor households who have been unable to maintain sufficient income with ongoing weak labor opportunities.

    Early indications for area planted, rainfall, and the availability of irrigation water suggest that main season harvests are likely to be near average. However, more information on harvest prospects will become available in May, after the pre-harvest assessment by MAIL. Food security outcomes for the majority of poor households are likely to improve gradually throughout the country over the next months. From April to September 2017, although many areas of the country are anticipated to remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2), the total number of people facing acute food insecurity is likely to decline following local harvests.

    Conflict-induced displacement is likely to increase from April to September 2017, as conflict is typically more intense and widespread during the warmer months. In some areas, newly displaced households will likely enter Crisis (IPC Phase 3) during the period, despite harvests and seasonal improvements in labor demand. Although conflict was widespread throughout much of the country in 2016 and difficult to predict, early indications from 2017 displacements through mid-April suggest that provinces that could be of elevated concern for conflict-induced displacement include parts of Nangarhar, Laghman, Badakhshan, Kunar, Nuristan, Hilmand, Kunduz, Baghlan, Jawazjan, and Takhar. Although most IDPs live in camps, a large number live among host populations either in informal settlements or in the homes of host communities. 

    Figures Precipitation anomaly estimates for February-March 2017, CHIRPS

    Figure 1

    Precipitation anomaly estimates for February-March 2017, CHIRPS

    Source: USGS/UCSB

    This Food Security Outlook Update provides an analysis of current acute food insecurity conditions and any changes to FEWS NET's latest projection of acute food insecurity outcomes in the specified geography over the next six months. Learn more here.

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