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Improvements limited by the start of the lean season

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Djibouti
  • April - September 2013
Improvements limited by the start of the lean season

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Key Messages
    • In general, food security conditions are expected to deteriorate over the next six months due to the effects of poor rainfall and the beginning of the lean season, particularly in southeastern border areas and rural areas of Obock. 

    • The Diraac/Soughoum season currently underway (March through May) produced short-lived heavy rains, but the outlook for the remainder of the season is not encouraging. Supplies of water, pasture, and vegetation in coastal pastoral areas are still limited.

    • Most pastoral households in southeastern pastoral border areas and the Obock area are experiencing Crisis levels of acute food insecurity (Phase 3, IPC 2.0) after a series of poor seasons that reduced household incomes and food production. A shortage of natural resources and inadequate food assistance could keep these areas in Crisis for the entire outlook period. 

    • There are a number of drivers of food insecurity among poor households in Djibouti City, including constant unemployment and the decline in labor opportunities during the lean season. The city is also expected to face water shortages as the hot season beings in June.


    National Overview
    Current situation

    Most rural areas in Djibouti are experiencing Stressed or Crisis levels of acute food insecurity (Phases 2 and 3, IPC 2.0) in spite of the food assistance furnished by the World Food Program (WFP).

    The Diraac/Soughoum season currently underway (March through May) normally accounts for anywhere from 25 to 50 percent of the total yearly rainfall in rural areas of the country. The season kicked off with heavy rains, which lasted less than a week, and the outlook for the remainder of the season expects 20 to 35 percent below-average rainfall according to regional forecasts by ICPAC.

    Some 70,000 residents of rural areas are currently food-insecure. The household diet consisting mainly of cereals, oil, and sugar provides very little dietary diversity. The ability of households to protect their livelihoods and avoid food insecurity is being compromised by the implementation of damaging coping strategies, such as the sale of wood, excessive livestock sales compared with the small size of their herds, being heavily dependent on food assistance, and abnormal migration by certain family members.

    Residents of southeastern pastoral coastal areas and the Obock area were especially hard hit by the failure of the Heys/Dadaa rains. The forecast for a poor Diraac/Soughoum rainy season (March through June) could raise serious concerns for Djibouti after the previous series of poor seasons and in light of current agro-climatic conditions. Pastoralists could be facing deterioration in food and income sources. Moreover, the few available resources in certain areas are being shared with the families of DPs, mostly from Ethiopia and Somalia. Family food rations supplied by assistance programs are being shared by the entire community, proving current food consumption inadequate. Households in southeastern border areas are currently in Crisis (Phase 3, IPC 2.0).

    Pastoral populations in the northwest have better access to natural resources due to local infrastructure (reservoirs, dams, etc.) that conserves water and improves the physical condition of livestock. However, the competition for and excessive use of these resources in certain parts of the area could lead to shortages. Residents of this area are currently facing Stressed levels of acute food insecurity (Phase 2, IPC 2.0).

    Most likely food security outcomes

    With the outlook for the current Diraac/Soughoum season predicting low rainfall totals, conditions are likely to deteriorate, exacerbating pasture and water shortages which, in turn, will weaken the physical condition of livestock and reduce subsequent breeding.

    Households in southeastern pastoral border areas which have seen practically no rainfall and with a poor outlook for the Diraac/Soughoum season (March through June) and especially high rates of poverty, measured in terms of livestock ownership, will remain in Crisis (Phase 3, IPC 2.0) for the entire outlook period. Food security conditions in the central part of the country and southeastern surrounding areas will remain Stressed (Phase 2, IPC 2.0) throughout the outlook period. The status of households in the northwest will also remain Stressed with the available resources in this area from previous rainy seasons (the Karan/Karma and Diraac/Soughoum seasons) due to the existence of water conservation systems (dams, reservoirs, etc.) in certain parts of the area.

    Water access in rural areas of Obock is limited, where pastoral livelihoods are weakened by the drought. Local populations are highly dependent on community food assistance from urban areas, whose importance is second only to external food assistance. They are currently facing Crisis levels of acute food insecurity (Phase 3, IPC 2.0) and, with the beginning of the lean season, will very likely remain in Crisis throughout the outlook period.

    High-risk households in urban areas, where conditions are shaped by chronic poverty and the lack of employment opportunities, are facing Stressed acute food insecurity conditions. Their situation will further deteriorate as of July, with the beginning of the high-spending season (Ramadan and Aïd). However, the food voucher program scheduled for this difficult time of year could keep household food insecurity at Stressed levels for the remainder of the outlook period.

    Conditions in the central mountain area were greatly improved by the week-long Diraac/Soughoum rains, which bolstered water availability, particularly in the Day and Goda areas. Because the first rains of the season were so short-lived, local populations are still facing Stressed acute food insecurity conditions (Phase 2, IPC 2.0). Their situation could further deteriorate as of June with the poor outlook for the remainder of the Diraac/Soughoum season and the beginning of the lean season, however they will remain in the Stressed food insecurity phase.

    Northwestern pastoral areas (livelihood zone 1)

    Current situation

    Rainfall levels for the Karan/Karma season were normal to above-normal—up 75 to 200 percent above-normal (NOAA). However, the area saw no further rainfall activity until the beginning of March. The Diraac/Soughoum season began with heavy rains, particularly in the Dorra area, but they lasted less than a week. Most of the area is suffering from poor water access. Still, the good rainfall produced sizeable improvements, filling reservoirs which, in certain parts of the area such as Madgoul, could provide better water access both for local populations and for livestock productivity. Households in Dorra are traveling more than nine kilometers on foot in search of water. The poor road conditions isolating local villages are still making it difficult for tank trucks to get through with water supplies.

    The Eildar market in Ethiopia is the main source of supply for local pastoralists. Thus far, ongoing food assistance programs have been able to stabilize staple food prices. Approximately 40 percent of local pastoralists are categorized as having poor food consumption. Milk availability is limited to about half a liter per household, compared with the average of two liters per household.

    Households in northwestern pastoral areas are currently benefiting from blanket distributions of food rations by the WFP, which account for approximately 60 percent of household food supplies. Food and income from animal production is increasingly limited due to the effects of recurrent droughts and the weakened condition of livestock. There has been very little herd rebuilding in this area.

    Households in the northwest have a poor diet consisting mainly of cereals, oil, and sugar. Milk consumption is limited and, in certain households, confined strictly to children. Based on joint assessments with key informants in this area, approximately 40 percent of the local population is categorized as having poor food consumption. Pastoral livelihoods are incapable of meeting household food needs, with the chronic food insecurity in this area only aggravating the current situation. Households are heavily dependent on food assistance (60 percent of the population). The nutritional situation is complex, but has been stable since October of last year, with no change in the numbers of admissions to health clinics. Local households are currently facing Stressed acute food insecurity conditions (Phase 2, IPC 2.0).

    Assumptions
    • WFP will continue to furnish 60 to 70 percent of the population in this area with food assistance during the first half of the outlook period. The envisioned level of assistance as of the beginning of June is higher, at around 85 percent.
    • The Karan/Karma rains, which should improve conditions in this area, are expected to begin by the second half of the outlook period.
    • Good rainfall and the resulting improvement in the physical condition of livestock will strengthen terms of trade.
    • The month-long observance of Ramadan will fall in July/August when staple food prices are generally on the rise. In addition, events in August and September (Aïd and the beginning of the new school year) and the expected associated heavy spending could affect household assets.
    • As of June, the beginning of the hot season will slow activities associated with the sale of salt shipped by camel from the Lake Assal area on the Eildar market in Ethiopia. The salt is generally traded for sorghum.
    • The sharing of local resources with displaced populations from rainfall deficient areas (Obock) could start to create water shortages, affecting access to food and income and, thus, heightening food insecurity.
    • Milk consumption is virtually nonexistent throughout the country and in this area in particular, which could weaken the state of households’ nutrition.
    Most likely food security outcomes

    Daily labor as an income source will become less important over the course of the outlook period, dropping from typically 40 percent to 20 percent during this time. More specifically, with competition from border villages in Ethiopia for salt exports from this area and the increasingly limited availability of charcoal due to the government ban, there will be few income-earning opportunities. There will be even less income from these activities in the second half of the outlook period with the beginning of the lean season and the accompanying high temperatures. Good rainfall activity and resulting improvement in pastures should strengthen the physical condition of livestock, having a positive impact on income from milk sales and terms of trade.

    However, income from the sale of livestock and milk will still be lower than usual due to the large losses of livestock over the past few years. Conditions could deteriorate in the second half of the outlook period, which falls in the middle of the lean season, reducing income from sales of animals and animal products. By the second half of the outlook period, with the beginning of the lean season, a very difficult time of year, sources of income for poor households will be reduced to a minimum, with income-generating activities like small-scale trade diminishing. Practically all food assistance will be used for household consumption. The main source of food will be food assistance programs (by WFP) serving approximately 80 percent of the local population and covering 70 percent of households’ food needs as of May, according to food security surveys and discussions with rural populations. The repeated droughts and high prices of staple foods will weaken household purchasing power and also market access more than usual during the outlook period, compared with an average year. There will be a smaller volume of market purchase in the second half of the outlook period with the larger availability of humanitarian assistance.

    Food sources related to livestock and community food assistance will not change during this period. They will continue to provide their normal nominal share of household food sources (five percent each). In general, with the availability of food assistance, there will be less trading with Ethiopian markets (particularly for sorghum). Moreover, the weakened condition of livestock (camels) during the lean season will make travel more difficult than at other times of year.​

    With the depletion of livelihood assets, poor seasonal conditions, and the protracted drought, pastoral livelihoods will be incapable of meeting household food needs. Local households will continue to rely heavily on unsustainable activities (sales of wood and charcoal) and food assistance. Approximately 80 percent of the local population will receive assistance during the lean season (June-September).

    There could be a seasonal decline in the state of nutrition (due to the deterioration in food consumption) during the lean season, with high rates of admissions to health clinics. There is still no evidence of the possibility of acute malnutrition rates reaching concerning levels.

    In spite of ongoing humanitarian assistance programs, at least 20 percent of households will have inadequate food consumption and be forced to resort to damaging coping strategies to help pay for certain essential nonfood expenses in the first half of the outlook period. Good pasture and water availability with the good Karan/Karma rains and the current Diraac/Soughoum rains and the diversification of household sources of income will keep acute food insecurity at Stressed levels (Phase 2, IPC 2.0). As of June, by the second half of the outlook period, local households will be in Crisis (Phase 3, IPC 2.0) with the deterioration in food access and consumption and the beginning of the lean season.

    Southeastern pastoral border areas (livelihood zone 3B)

    Current situation

    There were below-normal levels of Heys/Dadaa rains in southeastern border areas (ranging from 50 to 70 percent below average, according to NOAA). The Diraac/Soughoum season kicked off in the last week of March with a few days of rain, but has not produced any major rainfall activity. Certain parts of the area (Kabah Kabah) still have severe water shortages, where pastoralists are traveling as many as two hours on foot in search of water for their households and livestock herds. As usual, any vegetation is dry after the series of poor rainy seasons in this area, displacing households to the surrounding areas, which saw good summer (Karan/Karma) rains. A number of pastoralists have also chosen to take their livestock into Ethiopia, where rainfall conditions have been somewhat better.

    Herd size has dropped sharply over the last few years. An on-site visit to the area revealed the goat population to be down to less than half its size and the loss of over 70 percent of local camel herds, as compared to the reference year 2003/2004. The weakened condition of livestock due to the drought is making them more disease-prone (more susceptible to ticks and pneumonia), affecting reproductive performance during the normal gestation period for livestock.

    Practically all households are receiving the ongoing food assistance program in this area, but heavy reliance on reapportionment at the local community level is distorting food intake from the rations supplied by the program. Thus, the ration allocated to a single household is being reapportioned by the community and shared by two, three, or even four households, reducing the quantity of food going to each household and distorting the envisioned amount of food consumption from the program. Food assistance is still currently the main source of food for poor households in southeastern border areas, accounting for approximately 70 percent of food sources.

    With the poor physical condition of livestock, income from livestock sales is down from last year due to factors affecting seasonal performance. This source accounts for approximately five percent of total household income.

    Many pastoralists are selling charcoal in spite of government bans. This harmful and unsustainable coping strategy is generating an enormous share of household income (50 percent). Cash remittances are a minor source of income, accounting for only five percent of total household income.

    For the most part, prices are still close to or below three-year averages. Even with the availability of food assistance, the price of wheat flour has risen in most local markets (by 10 percent in Ali Sabieh and 11 percent in Dikhil). Better-off households normally sell part of their food assistance, which usually brings down market prices towards the end of the lean season (from May to September). However, the chronic drought conditions and inadequacy of food assistance with the influx of households increasingly affected by the loss of their assets are limiting sales of food assistance and keeping prices high.

    The local household diet in southeastern border areas, consisting mainly of cereals, oil, and sugar, provides very little dietary diversity. The erosion in livestock assets, along with other factors, is limiting the consumption of milk and animal products by households in these areas. Milk availability is practically nonexistent, at an average of less than one liter per household per day, compared with the normal minimum household requirement of at least three liters.

    Pastoralists have virtually exhausted coping strategies designed to help improve their food consumption and will be unable to meet their food needs. Households in southeastern border areas are currently facing Crisis levels of acute food insecurity.

    Assumptions
    • Rainfall forecasts for Djibouti by the ECMWF and NOAA are predicting average to below-average levels of rainfall between March and May.
    • Food assistance programs will continue throughout the outlook period, with approximately 80 percent coverage as of June.
    • There could be a sharp drop in assistance from urban households as of July with the beginning of the high-spending period for Ramadan, holidays, and the start of the new school year in September.
    • There will be a seasonal rise in staple food prices in July/August, during the month-long observance of Ramadan.
    • Livestock sales could increase as the availability of pasture and water improves the physical condition of animals.
    • Sales of charcoal will continue in spite of the government ban.
    • There will be high rates of abortions by livestock due to the effects of the drought and their weakened condition, particularly in the second half of the outlook period (as of May).
    Most likely food security outcomes

    There will be an improvement in income-generation from casual labor compared with the last few months. With market demand exceeding limited supplies and driving up prices, charcoal sales will continue to serve as an important source of income throughout the first half of the outlook period in spite of the government ban. Income from these activities will decrease by approximately 20 percent in the second half of the outlook period, with the hot season making it more difficult. There will be no change in the small share of income produced by the sale of livestock, with losses of livestock from the failure of the Heys/Dadaa rains offsetting the small seasonal improvement with the Diraac/Soughoum rains. Proceeds from the sale of milk during the outlook period will be lower than usual, which normally accounts for a large share (30 percent) of household income in this area. Milk sales will be impacted by the weakened condition of livestock and the high animal fatality rates during the outlook period. Other types of income such as assistance from urban households will be significantly lower than usual in the second half of the outlook period, which coincides with the high-spending season, particularly in urban areas (due to Ramadan, Aïd, and the beginning of the new school year).

    Food assistance for vulnerable drought-stricken households will account for 65 percent of household food sources during the outlook period. This will be the main source of food for local households. Sales of charcoal will slow in the second half of the outlook period (the lean season) due, in part, to the larger availability of food assistance and, in part, to the beginning of the hot season. Sources of animal-based food products such as milk will be sharply reduced as of June with the beginning of the lean season. The contribution of this food source will be 80 percent lower than usual. In general, milk availability will be contingent on birth rates and, with the lack of rain, reproductive performance will be extremely limited and milk consumption will be virtually nonexistent.

    The decline in total household income will weaken household purchasing power and market access. Poor households will reduce their market purchase by 30 percent. The contribution of community assistance, which accounts for only five percent of household food supplies, will remain unchanged throughout the outlook period.

    Even with the large increase in food assistance, pastoral livelihoods will no longer be capable of meeting household needs.

    Adult household members will reduce the size of their food portions for the benefit of the children in the household. They will also continue to share their food with their livestock as a coping strategy designed to help boost their productivity and market value. Though the contribution of urban assistance will be reduced by the diminished purchasing power of urban households, local households will continue to rely on family members in the city. This strategy will be more effective in the first half of the outlook period, becoming less effective as of July with the beginning of the high-spending period in urban areas. Local communities will continue to reapportion food assistance to make up for the lack of food access during the outlook period. Food assistance from the government and/or nongovernmental organizations could help bridge household food gaps during the outlook period to some extent. As of May, expanded food assistance programs will serve more households in local villages.

    Household food consumption will be poorer than usual during the outlook period. This food consumption gap is attributable in large part to the series of poor rainy seasons preventing pastoralists from rebuilding their livelihood assets and making water access increasingly problematic. By June, households will have even larger food consumption gaps with the beginning of the lean season.

    Pastoral livelihoods and livelihood strategies will not suffice to bridge the food consumption gaps facing local households during the outlook period. The series of poor rainy seasons precludes the rebuilding of animal herds, thereby limiting livestock assets and forcing households to rely on unsustainable sources of income (sales of charcoal).

    The deterioration in food consumption will have a negative effect on the nutritional status of local households. Admissions to local health clinics were up from approximately 580 in October last year to roughly 727 in March this year. There is also a continuing problem with chronic malnutrition due to the unending drought, poverty, as measured by asset ownership, and poor access to health care. Still, the jump in March admissions, which could involve cases of chronic as well as acute malnutrition, is unusual for that time of year.

    Limited milk consumption could keep local households in Crisis (Phase 3, IPC 2.0) due to poor rainy season conditions (creating shortages of pasture and water) and their vulnerability in the face of the loss of their livelihood assets and the exhaustion of their coping strategies. There could be a deterioration in household food consumption and local livelihoods in the second half of the outlook period with the beginning of the lean season limiting household resources (less assistance from the city, less work, etc.), but ongoing food assistance programs should maintain acute food insecurity at Crisis levels.

    Obock region

    Rural areas of Obock are suffering from a rainfall deficit. The combined effects of the drought and seasonal diseases are keeping animal fatality rates high. The inaccessibility of most parts of this region is a serious obstacle to the delivery of assistance by international organizations. Water access is limited, with local residents traveling an average of four hours on foot in search of drinking water. Households in rural areas of the Obock region will remain in Crisis (Phase 3, IPC 2.0) for the entire outlook period.

    Djibouti City

    With the unemployment rate at 46 percent, households in Djibouti City at risk for food insecurity are in a state of chronic poverty. Highly dependent on casual labor, they will probably continue to face Stressed acute food insecurity conditions (Phase 2, IPC 2.0) through the end of June and could be in Crisis (Phase 3, IPC 2.0) by July with the beginning of Ramadan and the holidays. WFP is planning to mount an assistance effort in the form of a food voucher program in certain peripheral areas of Djibouti City (Balbala) during the lean season. However, assistance during this period may not meet the enormous needs of the poorest household whose food security depends heavily on small trade and odd jobs. Nonetheless, urban households will remain in the Stressed phase of the acute food insecurity scale for the remainder of the outlook period.

    Central mountain area

    Rural populations in the country’s central mountain area are currently enjoying good water access, but conditions could deteriorate in the second half of the outlook period with the beginning of the lean season, even with the expansion in food assistance. This area has not made the same type of progress from humanitarian assistance programs as northwestern pastoral areas, which have been and are still receiving year-long assistance with the influx of nomads and IDPs settling outside cities in nearby areas. The local population will continue to face Stressed acute food insecurity conditions (Phase 2, IPC 2.0) during the outlook period, which should improve slightly from the recent short-lived rains.

    Area

    Event

    Impact on food security

    Northwestern pastoral areas

    A protracted cold dry season

     

    A poor Diraac/Soughoum season could weaken water and livestock resources earlier than usual, putting households in Crisis more quickly.

    Southeastern pastoral border areas

    A good Diraac/Soughoum  season

     

    Good Diraac/Soughoum rains will help improve conditions by increasing the availability of livestock resources.

    Northwestern pastoral areas

    Sharp rise in prices in Ethiopia

     

    A rise in prices in Ethiopia during the outlook period could cause deterioration for local households dependent on Ethiopian markets. Even with the large volume of food assistance, households will still be extremely market-dependent. The loss of this source of food would weaken household food access.

    Southeastern pastoral border areas

    Rise in staple food prices

    A rise in the prices of major staple foods could affect the purchasing power of poor households.

    Figures Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Current food security outcomes, April 2013

    Figure 2

    Current food security outcomes, April 2013

    Source: FEWS NET

    To project food security outcomes, FEWS NET develops a set of assumptions about likely events, their effects, and the probable responses of various actors. FEWS NET analyzes these assumptions in the context of current conditions and local livelihoods to arrive at a most likely scenario for the coming eight months. Learn more here.

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