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Food security emergency persists across Ethiopia in aftermath of severe shocks

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Ethiopia
  • August 2023
Food security emergency persists across Ethiopia in aftermath of severe shocks

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  • Key Messages
  • Current Situation
  • Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
  • Updated Assumptions
  • Projected Outlook through January 2024
  • Partner
    Key Messages
    • In the aftermath of the 2020-2023 drought and the 2020-2022 conflict, Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes with households in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) are expected to persist in southern, southeastern, and northern Ethiopia. Levels of food insecurity have reached an annual peak in August, with millions of households facing food consumption gaps prior to the start of the meher harvest in September and deyr rainy season in October. While food and income are expected to increase from October to January, there is a credible risk of more extreme levels of acute food insecurity in the pastoral south/southeast and Tigray if this does not materialize to the extent currently anticipated, particularly amid an uncertain timeline for the end of the USG’s pause on funding for food assistance deliveries.
    • In the pastoral south and southeast, many households remain destitute and displaced with minimal livestock holdings due to prior drought. While livestock births during the deyr rains will improve food and milk availability, these households will likely only be able to mitigate their hunger through meager labor wages and community support. Furthermore, forecasted above-average rainfall driven by El Niño and positive Indian Ocean Dipole conditions – brings not only opportunities like improved harvests and livestock reproduction, but also risks such as displacement, crop losses, and livestock diseases. 
    • In Tigray, low levels of conflict have allowed an increase in cropping and other income-earning activities – most notably labor migration – compared to recent years, but these remain significantly below normal. The meher harvest in September will only temporarily ameliorate these dire conditions, as below-average stocks will most likely become depleted by January and give way to an atypically early 2024 lean season. In neighboring pastoral areas of Afar, seasonal improvements will be marginal, as localized drought during the June to September kiremt rains is hampering the recovery of livestock holdings.
    • Localized meher-producing in areas of Amhara, along the Rift Valley of Oromia, and SNNPR are also of concern due to deepening rainfall deficits during the kiremt rains, as crops are at risk of wilting and dying in September; however, the full impact on food insecurity is not expected to be realized until households deplete their harvest stocks in 2024. In Amhara, a recent uptick in conflict is also disrupting typical livelihood and economic activities. While conflict has increased, active battles are not constant in the region, and as a conflict event subsides, livelihood and economic activities return to near-normal levels. The continuation of conflict, coupled with the rainfall deficits in eastern Amhara, is being closely monitored as there is the potential for even lower production than currently anticipated. 

    Current Situation

    Conflict: Levels of conflict across Ethiopia have been lower in 2023 than in recent years; however, August was the most violent and deadliest month in 2023, driven mainly by increased conflict and fatalities in Amhara and Oromia as hostilities between government and militia forces increased (Figure 1). According to ACLED, over 60 percent of recorded events in August occurred in Amhara, with August being the most violent and deadliest month since the start of 2023. Conflict and violence occur primarily in towns and along roadways, concentrated in Central Gondar and West Gojam zones. In early August, a state of emergency was declared in Amhara associated with the uptick in conflict; however, the impacts of this directive on household access to food and income have not been significant apart from prohibiting the population from leaving their homes after 7 p.m. More notably, conflict in Amhara has resulted in population displacement and some disruption to trade flows and market function. Furthermore, there were reports of some clashes over disputed territory between militia groups in August near the Oromia/Amhara regional borders, which also contributed to the trend of increased conflict in Oromia. Meanwhile, in Tigray, conflict has continued at low levels while regional tensions remain high.

    Figure 1

    Conflict events and fatalities from January to August 2023 in areas where conflict is concentrated in 2023
    Conflict graphics for Ethiopia from Jan to Aug. 2023

    Source: FEWS NET's analysis of ACLED data

    Displacement: Displacement remains high and continues, mainly due to conflict and drought. The latest available displacement figures collected by IOM in June across Afar, Amhara, Oromia, SNNP, Sidama, Somali, and Tigray regions found over 4.3  million people displaced. Nationally, this represents a slight increase in displacement since the last national assessment conducted by IOM in January. In conflict-affected areas since the latest estimate, displacement has likely increased, especially in conflict-affected areas of Amhara and Oromia. In areas of Amhara, while no official assessment has been done in recent months, displacement has likely increased, and the full scale of displacement is unknown. Meanwhile, available information suggests displacement due to drought has been generally stable since early to mid-2023. Finally, according to the government-led sugum/belg seasonal assessment in central and southern Afar, about 88,500 people were displaced in mid-August due to the Afar-Somali ethnic conflict, recurrent drought, and overflooding of the Awash River. 

    Rainfall: June to September kiremt rainfall started earlier than usual across the country, with generally favorable seasonal rainfall in western areas. However, in northeastern, central, and southern kiremt-receiving areas, rainfall deficits that emerged in July have only increased in August (Figure 2). Rainfall deficits are deepest in some areas of SNNPR, Tigray, and Afar, where drought conditions are ongoing. In northern SNNPR and neighboring areas of the Oromia Region, the rainfall deficits for the June to August period mark the driest season on the historical record

    The Borkena River overflowed due to heavy rainfall upstream in areas of Amhara, which caused flooding in Dulecha woreda of Zone 3 in the Afar Region. The flooding resulted in the washing away of around 300 hectares of crops and covered approximately 3,500 hectares of pasture. About 10,0000 people were temporarily displaced due to the flooding.

    Figure 2

    Rainfall as a percent of normal from June 1 to August 31, 2023
    Rainfall as a percent of normal in Ethiopia

    Source: UCSB Climate Hazards Center

    Desert locustThe kiremt rainfall in June and July occurring in desert locust recession and breeding areas of Afar and Tigray promoted the emergence of desert locusts in July and August. Immature adult swarms of desert locusts were reported in August in the highlands of northeast Tigray and the lowlands of the Rift Valley. As of late August, there are no reports of significant crop damage in most areas. Control measures are ongoing in Ethiopia, with the FAO reporting over 600 hectares of land treated. According to the FAO, a few immature swarms may remain in Rift Valley areas of Afar and northern Somali regions, depending on rainfall in the next month and a half.    

    Crop conditions: According to the Ministry of Agriculture, nearly 85 percent of average area planted was complete for the meher seasonal long- and short-cycle crops as of mid-August, when the planting window in northern, central, and western areas of the country closed. The reduction in area planted to below-average levels nationally is due to an overall reduction in farmers’ access to agricultural inputs, which resulted from delays in distribution and lower-than-normal income. Meanwhile, in SNNPR and Sidama, planting will likely continue for root crops into early September, as is typical.

    Crops planted during the standard planting time between June and mid-August are at the germination to vegetation stage. Crops in most western areas are in generally good condition; however, in eastern Tigray, eastern Amhara, and areas along the Rift Valley of Oromia, Sidama, and SNNPR, wilting of crops is already being reported in areas due to rainfall deficits.  

    Pasture and water availability: Nationally, pasture conditions and water availability are mixed due to variations in rainfall observed in early to mid-2023. In southern and southeastern pastoral areas, available pasture and water are sufficient to sustain livestock until the next rainy season, beginning in October. The July to September karan/karma season typically supports pasture regeneration and water availability in northern pastoral areas; however, poor rainfall with drought conditions has resulted in declines in pasture availability in some areas of Afar. Kiremt-receiving areas along the Rift Valley of Oromia, Sidama, Southwest Region, and SNNPR have seen atypical declines in pasture availability due to low rainfall and high temperatures. 

    Livestock condition and productivity: Livestock body conditions are broadly normal nationally, but anomalies in livestock productivity persist. At this time of year, milk availability is typically seasonally available in northern pastoral areas and seasonally low in southern and southeastern pastoral areas. Currently, however, milk availability is atypically limited by low livestock holdings in areas affected by conflict – notably in parts of Afar impacted by the 2020 to 2022 conflict – and areas affected by the three-year drought. In the south and southeast, especially, livestock births have been very low as livestock herds are still recovering from the drought, and livestock holdings are minimal. Nevertheless, there are generally good prospects for milk production among the few livestock that conceived in early 2023 and will conceive in late 2023. 

    Macroeconomy: Persistent poor macroeconomic conditions driven by low exports and budgetary support continue to cause the depreciation of the Ethiopian Birr (ETB) and contribute to increases in food and non-food prices nationwide. In July, the official exchange rate was about 54.85 ETB per USD, reflecting a five percent loss in value compared to last year's exchange rate and a 45 percent loss in value compared to the five-year average. Furthermore, the government of Ethiopia increased the price of fuel in August, contributing to rising transportation costs that also drive up the price of food. On average, fuel prices increased by around eight percent at the pump. While inflation has cooled in recent months, inflation in August was high at 28.2 percent, according to the Central Statistics Agency. Food inflation also remained high at 27.3 percent in July. The softening of inflation in the last few months is generally due to the belg harvest reaching markets and moderating supply concerns. 

    Market and trade functioning: Most markets across Ethiopia function normally, except in areas affected by conflict. In Amhara, the movement of goods within the region and to Addis is disrupted as conflict or roadblocks occur. For example, trade routes from Addis Ababa to Bahir Dar and Bahir Dar to Gondar were disrupted in August. However, the flow of goods has not been blocked for extended periods. Markets within Amhara are functioning, however, at lower-than-normal levels. 

    In Tigray, where conflict subsided in 2022, markets still are not functioning at the capacity observed before the start of the conflict in 2020. While previous typical trade routes from Amhara to Tigray are disrupted due to conflict, supplies have been getting to Tigray through Afar, and there have been no significant disruptions to the movement of goods. 

    In the Somali region along the areas bordering Kenya and Somalia, the presence of Al-Shabab is limiting access to the main roads. This compels traders to use alternative routes for the movement of goods, incurring additional transportation costs that are passed along to consumers. 

    Staple food supply and prices: Across the country, staple food prices continue to increase and remain well above average, corresponding to below-average market supply and rising transportation costs (Figure 3). However, some moderation in the pace of price increases has been observed in areas where the belg harvest is ongoing, including SNNPR, Sidama, central and eastern Oromia, and eastern Amhara, as this has stabilized market supply at near-average levels. Maize prices in July across most markets in the country are over 85 percent higher than the three-year average and up to nearly 60 percent higher than the same time in 2022. 

    In Amhara, market supply is limited due to the ongoing lean season and conflict, which plays a key role in the rise of staple food prices within the region and neighboring Addis Ababa. Traders in the capital of Ethiopia predominately source grains from Amhara. In Amhara, maize prices in Bahir Dar, Dessie, and Sekota increased by over 40 percent between January and July. In Addis Ababa, teff and maize prices rose over 40 percent from January to July. Additionally, the ongoing conflict in Amhara and insecurity in western Oromia continue to result in lower-than-normal trade flows, driving up food prices. 

    Figure 3

    Maize prices in key markets across Ethiopia
    Maize price in Ethiopia increasing from Jan 2021 to Jul 2023

    Source: FEWS NET

    Livestock supply and prices: Livestock supply across markets is generally typical, except in conflict and drought-affected areas, where household livestock holdings are low and/or have limited market access. Nationally, livestock prices remain above average. In Yabelo in Oromia, goat prices in July were only around 10 percent higher than the three-year average, while in Gode in the Somali Region, livestock prices were nearly 90 percent above the three-year average. In Yabelo, while livestock prices have moderately increased, food prices have significantly increased, resulting in a decline in the goat to maize terms-of-trade to almost 50 percent below average levels. Conversely, due to the more significant improvements in livestock prices, household purchasing power has remained stable in Gode as food and livestock prices are increasing compared to the average. 

    Labor income and self-employment: The ongoing belg harvest and the start of meher agricultural activities have increased seasonal agrarian labor opportunities and wages, except in areas currently or recently affected by conflict. Localized conflict in southern and western Oromia, SNNPR, and Amhara is limiting the movement of daily laborers to western surplus-producing areas in search of labor. Notably, in Tigray, income from labor migration is minimal. Additionally, daily wage labor opportunities and income in Sidama, SNNP, and central and eastern Oromia are limited due to the increased supply of laborers and low labor availability associated with the poor rainfall in these areas. Despite the decline in labor opportunities, the daily wage rate has increased compared to last year, improving labor income for those who can access labor opportunities.

    Humanitarian assistance: The pause in food aid distribution continues until measures are implemented to ensure assistance goes to those most in need. In Tigray, WFP rolled out a food distribution pilot in six woredas in Northwestern and Southern zones to test measures to mitigate diversion and misuse of assistance. Around 280,000 people received about 15 kgs of wheat from late July to late August. The government continued to assist in some areas of the country, but at levels that are insufficient to meet the high needs. 

    Cholera outbreak: A cholera outbreak has been active in various areas of Ethiopia since August 2022, impacting many woredas in Oromia, Somali, SNNP, Sidama, and Amhara regions. Due to effective response measures, cholera cases are decreasing in Oromia, SNNPR, Sidama, and Somali, with the exception of Moyale town, bordering Somali and Oromia regions and Nenesebo woreda in West Arsi Zone in Oromia. Most recently, cholera has spread to Amhara, with over 2,500 people impacted and 40 deaths between mid-July and mid-August, according to the Ministry of Health. The outbreak has affected 20 woredas across the 11 zones, with the outbreak's epicenter in Quara woreda in West Gondar Zone, where 90 percent of cases are reported. A shortage of medical supplies, waste management materials, poor sanitation, and water reservoirs drives the outbreak. 

    Acute malnutrition: High levels of acute malnutrition indicative of Critical (GAM 15-29.9 percent) and higher proxy levels of acute malnutrition continue to be reported in many areas of the country. The high levels of acute malnutrition are due to a combination of food consumption deficits and disease, including the continued cholera outbreak. In May, a find-and-treat campaign in Southern, Central, and Northwestern zones of Tigray found proxy levels of acute malnutrition within Critical levels. Similarly, in May in Siraro woreda of West Arsi Zone in Oromia, 21.8 percent of kids were diagnosed with GAM, indicating proxy GAM rates indicative of Critical levels of acute malnutrition. In the southeast, a SMART survey undertaken in June in Afder Zone. 

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
    Seasonal Calendar for Ethiopia


    Updated Assumptions

    The assumptions used to develop FEWS NET's most likely scenario for the Ethiopia Food Security Outlook for June 2023 to January 2024 remain unchanged. 

    Projected Outlook through January 2024

    Millions of households across the country are expected to face difficulty coping with the aftermath of the severe shocks occurring from 2020 to early 2023 as they try to rebuild their livelihoods. While the acutely food insecure population is expected to decrease markedly once the meher harvest becomes available in September/October, needs are expected to remain higher than usual for the harvest period. The meher harvest typically provides households with up to six months of food stocks, and while this year’s harvest will most likely be below average and lead to earlier than normal depletion leading up to the 2024 lean season, stocks are expected to increase household and market supplies through at least January. As millions of households start accessing food from their own production, many areas of the country are expected to improve to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Minimal (IPC Phase 1); however, some areas in SNNPR and Oromia, a significantly below-average production is expected as a result of crop wilting. As a result, they will have a meager harvest that will only sustain the food availability through the projection period. Close monitoring is needed for food security conditions in early 2024 due to the likely early start of the lean season. Finally, in areas where prolonged drought and conflict severely eroded livelihoods, households are expected to face difficulty coping and begin to rebuild their livelihoods, Emergency (IPC Phase 4) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to persist. The areas of highest concern are the pastoral south and southeast and Tigray. Additionally, in Afar, specifically Zones 2 and 4 were highly affected by the conflict, and many households have lost their livelihoods with limited access to food and income. Additionally, the poor karma/karan season is driving lower-than-normal expectations for pasture and livestock productivity among those with livestock. As a result, Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are expected to persist in areas worst impacted by conflict. 

    In the pastoral south and southeast, Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes expected to remain widespread, with those who are displaced and/or have lost their entire herd are expected to face Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5). Households will most likely continue to rely on atypical livelihood strategies to earn income to afford food purchases as well as support from those with resources and assets in the community. In September, goats are anticipated to give birth, although limited milk availability is expected to provide some food and income availability for households with livestock. Overall, a risk of more severe outcomes exists – amid a continued prolonged absence of assistance – if seasonal improvements in livestock conditions are not realized to the degree anticipated. 

    In Tigray, acute food insecurity will most likely remain severe until the meher harvest begins in September amid the pause of humanitarian food assistance. Displaced and very poor populations have few sources of income, and they will increasingly rely on community support, wild foods, and gifts from the transitional government. Large-scale begging and illegal means to earn income are likely, as well as the migration of households and household members to urban areas. Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes with households in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) are currently considered most likely. There is a credible risk of deterioration to worse outcomes if these food and income sources do not materialize as anticipated, notably in August and September just before the start of the meher harvest when food and income access is likely to be at its lowest.

    While the meher harvest is expected to be below average in Tigray, households are expected to have access to food stocks for several months from crop production, mitigating the size of food consumption deficits among a large proportion of the population. Additionally, some labor opportunities will allow households to access some income to purchase food. As a result, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected in much of Tigray from October to January. Still, a subset of households with no social networks and a lack of harvest stocks are likely to experience Emergency (IPC Phase 4) and Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) outcomes. Furthermore, due to the anticipated below-average meher harvest, food stocks are expected to be depleted atypically early in 2024. This, in turn, will result in an early onset of the lean season, as early as January onwards. Consequently, while this falls outside the current projection period, it is important to prepare for the likelihood that much of Tigray will experience a resurgence of Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes in early 2024.

    Recommended citation: FEWS NET. Ethiopia Food Security Outlook Update August 2023: Food security emergency persists across Ethiopia in aftermath of severe shocks, 2023.

    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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