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Extreme outcomes persist in Tigray amid limited assistance, while areas of Afar deteriorate to Emergency

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Ethiopia
  • August 2021
Extreme outcomes persist in Tigray amid limited assistance, while areas of Afar deteriorate to Emergency

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  • Key Messages
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    Key Messages
    • Humanitarian food assistance stockpiles in Tigray were depleted in August, and the only supply route into Tigray, via the Samara-Mekele Road, has been severely constrained. Between mid-July and mid-August, only around 321 trucks of humanitarian supplies arrived in Tigray, which is not likely to have provided more than ten percent of the required food supplies to the region for that month. As households in Tigray remain cut off from most economic and agricultural activities, cash to fund food purchases is non-existent. Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes, at a minimum, and Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) outcomes, are likely to persist across much of Tigray. Outcomes may be worse in some areas, but available evidence is insufficient to confirm or deny this claim.

    • In July and August, conflict expanded from Tigray into Afar and Amhara regions. This conflict has resulted in the displacement of over 500,000 people, looting and loss of assets, and significant disruption to typical livelihood activities. In Afar, poorer households typically rely significantly on PSNP and food aid to meet their food needs, and access to this food source has been significantly disrupted. It is expected that even if conflict subsides, affected households' access to cash income to fund the purchase of food may be severely constrained due to the loss of livestock and assets. As a result, Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are now anticipated throughout the projection period.      

    • The 2021 kiremt season in areas of the Rift Valley and central Oromia has performed poorly, and areas of West Arsi Zone are experiencing one of the driest seasons on record. Based on short- and medium-term forecasts, it is highly likely that cumulative rainfall for the kiremt season will be below average over areas of Gambella, Oromia, SNNPR, and Tigray regions. The below-average rainfall has likely resulted in poor cropping conditions in some areas of central Tigray; however, conflict, and associated reductions in agricultural inputs and area planted, is the primary driver of a projected poor harvest in Tigray Region. Rainfall during the October to December 2021 deyr/hageya season in southern and eastern pastoral areas is forecast to be below-average, resulting in the third consecutive below-average season. The season will adversely affect livestock productivity and body conditions, contributing to continued widespread Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. 

    • According to the Central Statistical Agency (CSA), annual inflation in July was 26.4 percent, the highest reported annual rate in a decade. Additionally, the devaluation of the ETB on the official and parallel markets continues. The ETB has lost about two percent of its value monthly on the official market since January; however, the devaluation on the parallel market is much higher. The poor macroeconomic conditions are driving significantly above-average food prices across the country. 


    Food security across much of Ethiopia is poor, with assistance needs at their highest levels since 2016 during the ongoing meher-producing lean season. The high assistance needs in Ethiopia are primarily driven by conflict, the poor macroeconomy, and consecutive droughts in pastoral areas. Outcomes in Tigray remain the most severe and of the highest concern.  

    Conflict: Conflict in northern Ethiopia remains volatile in August as Tigrayan forces pushed into Afar and Amhara regions; meanwhile, security within Tigray Region itself has been relatively stable (Figure 1). At the same time, with the expansion of conflict, the number of displaced people in Tigray, Amhara, and Afar has increased. According to OCHA, more than 229,000 people have been displaced due to the conflict in Afar, and 250,000 people have been displaced in Amhara. However, other reports from regional authorities put the number of displaced people in Amhara as high as 500,000; and according to the National Emergency Response Coordinating Committee, and Ministry of Peace the displaced population in Afar and Amhara numbers over 500,000. While it is difficult to provide an accurate estimate of the displaced population, it is likely displacement in these regions is high and increasing as conflict continues. In areas of Afar that border Tigray, it is estimated nearly 50 percent of the population is displaced. In addition, according to OCHA, since the beginning of 2021, conflict in western and southern Oromia, and  Somali regions has resulted in the displacement of over 262,000 people and over 365,500 people in Benishangul Gumuz.

    As a result of conflict and displacement, agricultural and employment activities are disrupted in many areas of the country. In many conflict-affected areas, livestock, agricultural tools, and grain stores were reportedly looted. Prior to the expansion of conflict into Afar, areas of Zone 2 and 4 had already been impacted by consecutive poor sugum seasons and some knock-on impacts of the conflict in Tigray, such as disruption to market activities. Additionally, even in a typical year, poorer households are heavily reliant on food aid and PSNP to meet their minimum food needs. Key informants indicate that PSNP and food aid distributions in many areas of Tigray have not occurred since May due to the ongoing conflict. According to the government, media reports, and key informants, many livestock have been looted or killed from most areas of Zones 2 and  of Afar. In the absence of livestock, these households typically turn to petty trade and self-employment activity; however, due to the conflict, most traders are avoiding these areas, leading to limited market activity, which further constrains income.

    On July 23, conflict between the Afar and Somali clans erupted in some woredas of Zone 3 of Afar, which resulted in displacement and disruption of casual labor and petty trading activities. According to the regional government, more than 29,000 people were displaced in early August. Due to this conflict, the Addis-Djibouti highway and railway were blocked for about two to three days, which temporarily affected trade flows to Addis Ababa. The situation in Zone 3 of Afar is still tense and volatile. Similar reports of conflict in the Somali Region were reported, leading to the displacement of over 3,500 people in Siti Zone.

    Rainfall: Following the below-average February to May belg rains, June to September kiremt rainfall has generally been favorable in most northern and western areas of the country. However, kiremt rainfall has been erratic and below average in most areas of SNNPR, Sidama, central and eastern Oromia Region, central Tigray Region, and Fafan Zone of Somali Region (Figure 1). High moisture stress has been reported in eastern and southeastern Oromia, significantly affecting meher crop cultivation and pasture and water availability.

    Desert Locust: According to FAO, in July, a few hopper bands were present in Aiysah woreda in Somali Region, and a few immature swarms moved into the highlands of Amhara, particularly in parts of South Wollo Zone. There were also unconfirmed reports of swarms in eastern Tigray and Gonder Zone of Amhara, where conditions are conducive for breeding. Overall, the impact of desert locusts on crops and pasture is currently not significant.

    Crop production: In SNNPR, western Oromia, and most parts of Gambella regions, seasonal agricultural activities are proceeding as they normally would. Since long-cycle crops (maize and sorghum) were not planted during the belg/genna seasons in most of SNNPR, Sidama, central and eastern Oromia, and eastern Amhara, farmers have replaced it with low-yielding short maturing varieties. Despite the favorable start to kiremt rainfall, land preparation and planting of short-maturing crops is below average in localized areas of central and eastern Oromia and SNNPR along the Rift Valley. In lowland areas of East and West Haraghe and West Guji zones, poor rainfall has resulted in wilted crops due to moisture shortages.

    As of mid-July 2021, the total area planted for meher crops in SNNP, Oromia, and Sidama regions is over 60 percent of average. As planting continued through mid-August, total area planted is likely to be near normal. Currently, most belg crops outside of Oromia region are in a ripening stages, whereas meher crops are at germination and vegetative  stages, except in a few areas of the Rift Valley of SNNPR, where the green harvest of belg planted maize has started. The belg harvest in Oromia is nearly complete, while in other areas is likely to begin in September.

    In Tigray, engagement in the ongoing agricultural season continues to be extremely limited. According to key informants, with the reduction in conflict in July, relative to preceding months, some farmers started agricultural activities; however, not at a significant level. In Western Tigray, cultivation is below normal as conflict remains volatile. According to the food security cluster, the meher harvest is only expected to be 25 to 50 percent of normal in Tigray. While kiremt agricultural activities in Amhara began normally, conflict in North Wello, Wag Himra, South Gonder, and North Gonder zones disrupted agricultural activities. Many households abandoned their fields as they fled, with some fields and crops destroyed. Nevertheless, the green harvest is ongoing across these areas of Amhara where possible.

    Pasture and livestock: Apart from the generally favorable pasture and livestock body conditions in Shebelle Riverine and Hawd Pastoral areas of the Somali Region, the rest of southern and southeastern pastoral areas face pasture and water shortages. As a result, livestock body conditions have declined along with milk production. Camel kidding and conception were below average during the March to May gu season. Most camels are producing below normal levels of milk, which is lowering milk available for consumption in much of the Somali Region. Conflict has resulted in significant looting and killing of livestock by armed groups in Tigray and adjacent areas of Amhara and Afar. Although, based on vegetation conditions and information from key informants, livestock body conditions are likely normal in these areas.

    Economy and prices: The ETB on the official market has steadily lost value in August, with the ETB worth 44.88 ETB/USD, about 26 percent less valuable than in August 2020 (Figure 2). The ETB on the parallel market depreciated at a higher rate in August than on the official market, increasing the gap between the official and parallel markets. The ETB on the parallel market depreciated to 65.81 ETB/USB as of mid-August, 44.4 percent higher than the official exchange rate. According to the CSA, annual inflation for July reached 26.4 percent, 8 percentage points higher than in June. This is the highest annual inflation rate reported in at least a decade. The increase in food inflation is the primary diver of the continued increase in annual inflation.

    Market supply and functioning are significantly disrupted and limited in some areas due to the conflict in Tigray and neighboring areas of Amhara and Afar. Many private traders are not traveling to areas affected by conflict in northern Ethiopia, further restricting supply. The supply routes to Tigray are blocked, with most markets in Tigray supplied from local production or residual wholesale trader's stocks. A market assessment conducted by multiple partners in Shire in July found prices of staple cereals increased substantially between October 2020 and July 2021, ranging from 45 to 140 percent higher in July 2021 than they were nine months before. The report also indicated that in Sekota market in Wag Himra Zone of Amhara, sorghum prices in July increased by over 40 percent compared to the previous month, and were nearly 75 percent above the five-year average.

    In markets across the country, staple food prices have increased significantly. The main reason for this is low market supply due to the meher lean season and the devaluation of the ETB, which has driven increases in fuel and transportation costs. In July, maize prices in Wolayita Sodo of SNNPR, Addis Ababa, Chiro in Oromia, and Jigjiga of Somali Region were over 110 percent higher than the five-year average (Figure 3).

    Livestock prices have also increased despite the decline in body conditions across many pastoral areas. This increase in livestock prices is due to the poor macroeconomic conditions putting pressure on market prices. While livestock prices are increasing, they are not increasing at the same rate as staple food prices; as a result, the terms of trade (TOT) continue to disfavor pastoral and agropastoral households across much of the country. In the Hawd pastoral and Shabelle Riverine areas of Somali Region, ToT are generally average. On the other hand, according to the Somali Region DPPCO, the goat to maize TOT in Jigjiga market in July were over 50 percent lower than the same time last year and 30 percent lower than the five-year average (Figure 4).

    Labor Income: In central and eastern Tigray and adjacent areas of eastern Amhara, most poor household income from labor has significantly declined due to conflict. The conflict in Tigray and Amhara has resulted in extremely limited availability of seasonal casual labor opportunities. Migrant labor movements to western surplus producing areas and mechanized farming areas in eastern parts of the country are significantly limited due to the conflict, resulting in low income from this critical source of cash income for many poor households. In conflict-affected areas of Afar, the disruption to market systems and the limited ability of people to move have further constrained self-employment and labor opportunities.

    Health and Nutrition: According to the Ministry of Health, as of mid-July, a total of 2,301 suspected cases of measles and 21 associated deaths were reported in 2021, with most of the cases reported in Amhara and Oromia. Most areas that reported high measles cases in the Amhara Region are chronically food insecure and currently report high malnutrition rates. In contrast, cases in Oromia Region are due to low measles vaccination rates.

    In May, the national therapeutic feeding program (TFP) admission rate of children with severe acute malnutrition (SAM) was 42,270, 40 percent higher than the five-year average (Figure 5). The highest increase in SAM admissions compared to the same time last year is in Tigray, with a nearly 200 percent increase. This is followed by Sidama Region with a nearly 45 percent increase, and Somali Region, where over a 7 percent increase in SAM admissions was reported. According to the NDRMC, as of July, in Oromia, the highest number of SAM admissions were reported from West Arsi, West and East Hararghe, Guji, East Shewa, and Arsi zones.  In Somali Region, 10,473 children were admitted for SAM treatment in June 2021 which is 24.3 percent higher than the same time last year. The very high number of admissions reflects a likely increase in the rate of malnutrition due to poor food security and health conditions.

    According to UNICEF, about 59 percent of health facilities across the Tigray region were functional as of mid-July. The June TFP admission is 44 percent higher than in May, indicating a potential deterioration in the malnutrition situation. TFP admissions declined in early July in Tigray, but this is likely due to the decline in service providers, and increases in the TFP admissions were reported in July as health services resumed. In the first week of August, 1,402 malnourished children were admitted to a TFP program, over half the number admitted in the entire month of July.

    Humanitarian Assistance: For Ethiopia as a whole, humanitarian assistance distributed by WFP and JEOP between April and mid-August for Round 1 distribution reached nearly 8.0 million people with humanitarian food assistance across the country. Round 2 assistance, for which distributions began in May, has reached almost 4.0 million people as of mid-August. Assistance distribution is inconsistent, with households often waiting a significant amount of time between distributions, up to 12 weeks in Tigray. Based on anecdotal reports and information from key informants, humanitarian food assistance distribution for Afar is limited, with little to no assistance delivery in Zone 2 and 4 since at least May. NDRMC is distributing assistance across much of the country; however, information on populations reached was not available at the time of this analysis.

    According to OCHA, in Tigray, humanitarian food stockpiles for humanitarian operators were depleted in August. Supplies into Tigray are extremely limited; the only open route into Tigray is via the Samara-Mekele Road. Between mid-July and mid-August, only around 321 trucks carrying humanitarian supplies entered Tigray. Given that approximately 90 trucks of food must enter Tigray every day to sustain a population of 5.2 million, the number that arrived in the mid-July to mid-August period could not have provided more than 10 percent of the required food supplies for that one-month time period. Between July 29 and August 11, before the food stockpiles ran out, slightly over 2.0 million people received food assistance. Although, there is likely a high rate of looting, poor targeting, and sharing among beneficiaries as millions face difficulty accessing food in Tigray.

    Current food security outcomes: Millions of people in Tigray require urgent humanitarian assistance across most of the region, with at least Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes ongoing. It is possible that outcomes are worse in the areas of highest concern; however, information is insufficient to confirm or deny this claim at this time. In Southern and Western Tigray, the start of the harvest is moderating consumption deficits, and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are ongoing.

    In areas of Amhara bordering Tigray, the conflict has significantly disrupted ongoing livelihood and economic activities. The looting of household grain stores, livestock, and household assets has resulted in a loss of livelihood capital. While agricultural activities were significantly disrupted, for those who are able are engaging in the early harvest, particularly for barley and potatoes, consumption of these foods is improving food access. Many displaced households are likely relying on gifts from the community to access food. Much of northeastern Amhara is currently in Crisis (IPC Phase 3), with some worst-affected households in Emergency (IPC Phase 4).

    Areas of Zones 2 and 4 of Afar are now cut off from neighboring areas due to conflict. Many poor households, including over 34,000 Eritrean refugees, have not received food aid or PSNP, have lost livestock due to the conflict, and face limited access to purchasing food on markets given limited market functioning. Given poor households' heavy market reliance but limited capacity to sell livestock – either due to losses from looting or limited market access – and to purchase food, many are facing significant difficulty meeting their basic food needs. Key informant reports suggest some populations from Zone 2 and 4 have migrated to areas of Amhara in search of food and that some pastoral households have slaughtered livestock for food. As a result, many poor households are facing large food consumption gaps indicative of and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes.  

    In pastoral households of southern and southeastern areas of the country, the decline in livestock body conditions and milk production is driving low milk availability for both sale and household consumption. As livestock ToT remains lower than average across most areas, it is expected income from the sale of livestock is limiting poor households' ability to access food. As a result, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are widespread across southern and southeastern pastoral areas. 


    The assumptions used for the June 2021 to January 2022 Ethiopia Food Security Outlook remain unchanged except for the following:

    • Conflict is likely to escalate in areas of Amhara taken by Tigrayan forces and in northern and western areas of Tigray. As a result, the disruption to market and trade function, seasonal agricultural activities, and livelihood activities are likely to continue.  
    • The escalation of conflict will likely cause further displacement in North, South, and Central Gonder, South and North Wello, and Wag Himra Zones, and renewed displacement/disruption along likely fighting fronts in northern and western Tigray. The displaced populations are expected to have difficulty engaging in their normal livelihood activities and will likely have a limited harvest.
    • Tensions between Sudan and Ethiopia have led to increased small-scale attacks between Sudanese forces and Ethiopian armed militiamen. Such incidents are likely to increase during the harvest period between October 2021 to January 2022, surpassing levels observed in previous years due to an increased military presence on the Sudan-Ethiopia border. 
    • As a result of conflict in areas of Amhara, agricultural activities are likely to be disrupted and will likely result in below-average meher production. Due to low market supplies, staple food prices are expected to increase during the harvest and post-harvest periods. Additionally, income from local agricultural labor will decline compared to normal due to limited opportunities and displacement of people.
    • With below-average kiremt rainfall, meher crop production is likely to be below average in southern and eastern crop-dependent areas, including central, southern, and eastern Oromia and Rift Valley areas of SNNPR. The cropping condition is poor, particularly in most lowland woredas of East and West Hararghe and Guji Zone of Oromia, resulting in below-average meher crop production.
    • In Afar Zones 2 and 4, displacement is expected to increase. Additionally, market access is expected to be limited with no telecommunication and public or private services. Moreover, income from livestock is expected to further decrease as the looting of livestock is expected to continue, reducing access to a primary income source for pastoral households.


    Millions of people are expected to need urgent humanitarian assistance across wide areas of Tigray, with at least Emergency (IPC Phase 4) area-level outcomes and populations in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) across most of the region. It is possible that areas of Southeastern, Eastern, Central, and Northwestern Tigray could experience worse outcomes, but evidence is insufficient to confirm or deny. Western and Southern Tigray are likely to remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) throughout the scenario period.

    In Amhara Region, conflict is expected to drive continued displacement and limited population movements, resulting in low household incomes. While the agricultural season was disrupted, households are engaging in the ongoing green harvest as possible. The early harvest of potatoes and barley is mitigating food consumption gaps for many households. Those households who are displaced are expected to be relying on host communities for food. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected between August and September. In October, as the meher harvest begins and households start consuming foods from their own production, improved food security outcomes are expected. Despite this, areas worst-affected by conflict, where significant disruption to the agricultural season and high levels of displacement occurred, particularly Wag Himra, North and South Gonder, and North Wello zones, are expected to continue to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes with some of the population in Emergency (IPC Phase 4).

    In Afar, across much of Zones 2 and 4, conflict is likely to continue disrupting household engagement in normal livelihood activities. The disruption of market functioning, the looting of livestock, and the limited ability for households to engage in self-employment and petty trading activities will drive significant constraints to food access. Many households are expected to face large food consumption gaps indicative of Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes. With sustained Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes, associated high levels of malnutrition and excess mortality are expected.

    A decline in milk yields, conceptions, kidding, and calving through January 2022, driven by the third consecutive poor season, in most southern and southeastern pastoral areas, including South Omo of SNNP, Borana of Oromia, and most Somali Regions, is expected to drive continued deterioration in food and cash income access among most poor households. As a result, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) are expected through at least January 2022.

    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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