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Early season rainfall and snow accumulation have been well below average

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Afghanistan
  • December 2016
Early season rainfall and snow accumulation have been well below average

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  • Key Messages
  • Current Situation
  • Updated Assumptions
  • Projected Outlook through May 2017
  • Key Messages
    • Conflict and civil insecurity remain the primary ongoing drivers of acute food insecurity, along with reduced employment opportunities as compared to recent years. The insecure environment has caused the internal displacement of more than 580,000 people in 2016, and has disrupted livelihoods activities for many more. Furthermore, an estimated 670,000 undocumented Afghanistan nationals have returned to the country from Pakistan, along with many more documented Afghan returnees from both Pakistan and Iran. Many of the displaced and returnees remain in need of humanitarian assistance as winter sets in.

    • Although conflict continues in most provinces, areas of greatest concern for conflict-related food insecurity include Nangarhar, Hilmand, Farah, Faryab, Badghis, Sari Pul, Kunduz, Badakhshan, Baghlan, Jawzjan, and Zabul Provinces, where control measures on the movement of people and goods are limiting the ability of households to maintain their normal livelihood activities. These areas are likely to remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) throughout the outlook period, with many of the most affected households in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    • Precipitation from October 1st through December 31st, 2016 was well below average throughout most of the country (see Figure). Due to the anticipated dissipation of the ongoing La Niña in early 2017, there remains a wide spread of possible precipitation outcomes for the peak of the wet season (January – April 2017). 

    • Farmers in areas that are typically planted with winter wheat during the autumn delayed planting by approximately one month in many areas due to very poor soil moisture, particularly in northern, northeastern, and western regions. Reports indicate that the area planted under rainfed winter wheat has been reduced as compared to recent years due to ongoing insecurity disrupting land preparation in some areas, and due to poor early season rainfall.

    Current Situation

    Cumulative precipitation from October 1st through December 31st was well below average in most of the country, with the exceptions of Balkh Province (near-average) and Ghazni Province (above average). Satellite-based precipitation estimates indicate that the greatest deficits are in parts of eastern and western Afghanistan. Southern parts of the country are also atypically dry (Kandahar, Hilmand, Zabul, Oruzgan, and Nimroz Provinces), although these areas typically receive little early season rainfall (see Figure).

    Typically, winter wheat planting starts in September and continues through mid to late December, with planting times depending on factors including elevation, soil moisture conditions, and precipitation. This year, winter wheat planting started late in most areas, near the end of September, due to poor soil moisture, limited precipitation, and limited land access in some areas due to conflict. As of early December, area planted under rainfed winter wheat was well below average, and many farmers are likely to plant spring wheat on this land beginning in late February/early March. Precipitation in some areas in November and December, as well as continued availability of irrigation water, permitted planting in many areas after a very dry month of October. The Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIROA) has distributed nearly 9,000 metric tons (MT) of subsidized, certified, improved wheat seeds in all provinces.

    Over 580,000 people in 31 of the country’s 34 provinces were displaced from their homes in 2016, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA). As they have lost valuable assets with which to earn a living and access to labor opportunities from their local social networks, most of the displaced are likely facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) acute food insecurity. Additionally, a large number of people who were displaced in previous years likely remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2).

    An estimated 670,000 undocumented Afghans have returned to Afghanistan from Pakistan in 2016, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Many of these returnees have lived in Pakistan for many years, and are returning to Afghanistan with minimal assets. Most are estimated to be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). The returnees remain in need of support from the government and humanitarian actors, both with immediate food and non-food assistance as well as assistance in establishing new livelihoods in their places of return.

    According to UNHCR, more than 370,000 documented Afghan refugees have also repatriated from Pakistan in 2016, in addition to the 670,000 undocumented returnees. Although UNHCR is providing the majority of the documented refugees with some humanitarian assistance, many of these households are likely to remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) throughout the winter and lean season.

    The wheat flour purchasing power of a day of casual labor (terms of trade or ToT) remains mixed across markets monitored by WFP, with a significant decline compared to the five-year average observed in some areas. Income from casual labor opportunities, primarily during the spring – autumn months, is an important source of food access for poor households throughout the country, particularly as they prepare for weak labor opportunities and, in some areas, limited market access during the winter. Markets experiencing the greatest negative change in labor to wheat flour ToT compared to the five-year average include Faizabad (Badakhshan Province), Maimana (Faryab Province), Mazar i Sharif (Balkh Province), and Jalalabad (Nangarhar Province). In Nili (Daykundi Province), this ToT remains typically low (see Figure).

    In November 2016, FEWS NET conducted a field visit to Jalalabad City and accessible surrounding areas of Nangarhar Province, where intense fighting during the past year has disrupted agricultural production and labor in some areas. In contested areas, many households were unable to hire labor, reducing typical income opportunities for people who travel seasonally to these areas. Jalalabad City is a key food market, as the area produces a surplus of wheat, rice, and horticultural crops.

    Nangarhar Province is the arrival point for the vast majority of returnees from Pakistan, and many of them are remaining within the province in search of employment opportunities and mild winter weather. Although the influx of people has put some downward pressure on local labor wages, this has been partially mitigated by an increase in construction labor. Wheat flour prices remained near the five-year average in November, as did prices for sheep and vegetable oil. Rice prices remained below average and similar to last year.

    In the two most important vegetable-producing districts of Nangarhar, Kama and Behsood Districts, the expansion of urban areas in recent years has somewhat reduced agricultural area. This trend accelerated in 2016 due to new arrivals of people from outside of the province, primarily from bordering areas of Pakistan. The cost of land for rent or purchase has increased noticeably, and many returnees to these areas will remain primarily dependent on limited labor opportunities for food access.

    Updated Assumptions

    Most of the assumptions used to develop FEWS NET’s most likely scenario for October 2016 to May 2017 remain unchanged. However, the following assumptions have been modified:

    • The ongoing La Niña, which is correlated with increased probability for below-average precipitation in Afghanistan, is expected to dissipate in the first quarter of 2017. Forecasts for the peak of the wet season from January through April 2017 are mixed, and there remains a wide spread of possible seasonal precipitation outcomes. Given the below-average precipitation from October through December 2016, the most likely scenario is for average to below-average cumulative precipitation during the wet season through May 2017.

    • Due to climate change, temperatures in recent years in Central Asia are typically above the long-term average. However, near-surface air temperatures throughout the outlook period (December 2016 – May 2017) are also likely to be above the short-term average of recent years. This could have varying impacts depending on the region, including the possibility of a mild winter. However it could also drive below-average snowpack and early spring melting, with possible increased chances of flooding from February-April 2017.

    Projected Outlook through May 2017

    Winter wheat planting continues through the end of December, and provides the last source of agricultural labor opportunities in most of the country prior to spring, which start as early as late February in lower elevation areas. Poor households are expected to enter their lean season in January as is typical, and will remain in a period of reliance on household stocks, often with deteriorating dietary quality and quantity, until spring labor opportunities begin from late February, and as late as May/early June in the highest areas. During this period, poor households will consume food primarily from their own stocks and from purchases made with savings from earlier in the year. Some households will also make purchases with year-round sources of income, such as formal employment with various branches of the government, including the military and police forces. Some households will also receive remittances from relatives abroad. 

    Although there remains a large spread of possible precipitation outcomes, due to the below-average precipitation through December 2016 and expectations for above-average temperatures, it is likely that pasture conditions in the spring will be somewhat poorer than last year, leading to slower improvements in livestock body conditions in February and March. During these months, many livestock will calve, kid, or lamb, increasing herd sizes, assuming adequate body conditions and in the absence of major disease outbreaks. Milk availability and income from livestock and the sale of livestock products will keep food access similar to last year for households relying on these sources, starting in February in some lowland areas and increasing through the spring in May in the highlands. Access to labor opportunities will also resume seasonally, reducing household reliance on food stocks and allowing for market purchases.

    Prices for wheat grain and wheat flour are likely to remain mostly stable through at least May. Although many rural households will have little demand for market purchases as they consume their own stocks, internally displaced households and many returnees, particularly those who are undocumented and returning with fewer assets, will remain heavily dependent on market purchases throughout the period. Traders are expected to continue to import wheat grain and wheat flour from traditional sources such as Kazakhstan and Pakistan. 

    The prevalence of acute malnutrition is likely to increase seasonally between January and March, due to the typical lean season and due to the large population of displaced and returnees, who will remain dependent on market food purchases while having few income-generating opportunities. The prevalence of Acute Respiratory Illnesses (ARIs) also typically reaches a seasonal peak during these months, increasing the risk of acute malnutrition in children.

    Several humanitarian organizations have made plans for providing assistance in the coming months. WFP is pre-positioning food commodities that could reach over 188,000 people in 60 districts across eight provinces in case of a need for emergency assistance. WHO has distributed pneumonia kits to 98 priority district hospitals in 24 provinces, which will support healthcare response for up to 100,000 people. UNHCR is targeting over 50,000 vulnerable IDP, refugee, returnee, and host households with a combination of blankets and fuel assistance. Other partners working with these populations have a further 20,000 non-food item (NFI) kits and over 3,100 emergency shelter kits in stock. UNICEF has prepositioned 36,000 hygiene kits, including 8,000 in Kunduz, Mazar-i-Sharif, and Faizabad, and plans to provide 50,000 households with winter clothes for children and 30,000 households with blankets. The Government has plans to maintain road access, with safe rooms on different priority road passes, and allocate provincial budgets for emergency response. 

    From December 2016 through May 2017, many areas of the country are expected to remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2). However, continuing conflict and limited market access in some areas will increase the typical difficulty in maintaining adequate food consumption during the lean season for many poor households. In these areas, including parts of Badakhshan, Nuristan, Bamyan, Daykundi, Badghis, Hilmand, Zabul, Ghor, and some districts of Nanagarhar, Kunduz, Baghlan, Takhar, Kandahar, and Farah Provinces, an increasing number of poor households will move into Crisis (IPC Phase 3) between January and March. In the absence of additional assistance and reintegration into local economies, many IDPs and undocumented returnees who have not been able to access humanitarian assistance are likely to remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) through at least March.

    Figures Cumulative precipitation versus average, Oct. 1 – Dec. 31, 2016

    Figure 1

    Cumulative precipitation versus average, Oct. 1 – Dec. 31, 2016

    Source: USGS

    Casual labor to wheat flour terms of trade, October 2016 (KG/day of labor)

    Figure 2

    Casual labor to wheat flour terms of trade, October 2016 (KG/day of labor)

    Source: WFP

    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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