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Amid high national needs, Tigray remains of greatest concern with conflict driving Emergency outcomes

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Ethiopia
  • February - September 2021
Amid high national needs, Tigray remains of greatest concern with conflict driving Emergency outcomes

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  • Key Messages
  • Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes likely to persist in 2021 in central and eastern Tigray
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    Key Messages
    • Large food consumption gaps indicative of Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes, with associated high levels of acute malnutrition and mortality, are expected in central and eastern Tigray through at least September. This is due to the expectation that conflict will continue to significantly limit access to typical sources of income, especially in rural areas, including labor, livestock sales, and PSNP, at a time when many poor households have no remaining food stocks from their harvests, and are relying heavily on income to purchase food. It is vital that humanitarian access constraints be resolved and large-scale assistance - including food, nutrition, and WASH - be delivered. This assistance is needed to prevent households from facing extreme food consumption gaps and avert excess mortality and associated high levels of acute malnutrition. 

    • In some southern, central, and northwestern areas of Tigray, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to persist. In these areas, while conflict is still a driver of increased acute food insecurity, and will likely remain so through September, the conflict has not limited economic activities as significantly as in adjacent areas. Poor households are able to earn cash income from self-employment and some agricultural activities as the kiremt season begins in June, although at below-average levels. In western Tigray, market functioning is reportedly near normal and expected to continue to be relatively stable. As a result, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected.  

    • In southern and southeastern pastoral areas, below-normal pasture and water availability are driving declines in access to food and income among pastoral households. Water availability for human and livestock use in much of the Somali region is limited. While water trucking has begun, access to safe water is limited as households do not have sufficient water storage materials, and livestock migrate longer distances for water. The forecast below-average March to May 2021 gu/genna season will be the second consecutive below-average season, leading to declines in pasture availability and livestock body conditions. This, coupled with high staple food prices, is expected to result in continued Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes across most pastoral areas of Ethiopia through September 2021.

    • Higher than normal levels of conflict in late 2020 and early 2021 across Ethiopia have led to increased displacement. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), nearly two million people were displaced in 2020. In Benishangul Gumuz alone, conflict in late 2020 and early 20201 was highest in Metekel Zone, where over 100,000 people have been displaced. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are ongoing in this area due to conflict and the subsequent disruption to livelihood and economic activities. Conflict-related displacements are expected to increase in 2021 compared to recent years.

    • Staple food prices across Ethiopia are atypically high, driven mainly by the poor macroeconomy and associated high inflation, but also due to the slightly below average meher harvest, driving high demand on many markets. High market prices alongside below-average income across much of the country due to reduced economic activities associated with the lingering indirect impacts of COVID-19, weather shocks, and conflict are expected to drive higher than normal assistance needs in 2021.

    Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes likely to persist in 2021 in central and eastern Tigray

    The conflict that broke out in Tigray in early November 2020 has persisted, resulting in high levels of displacement, a decline in economic activity, and a related contraction in poor households' normal access to sources of food and cash income. Additionally, the state of emergency in Tigray, declared by the federal government in November 2020, coupled with the conflict, is limiting population movement, especially in central and eastern areas. In the coming months, some improvements in economic activity are anticipated relative to current levels; however, significant restrictions on household access to food and income are expected to persist. As a result, FEWS NET anticipates Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes through at least September 2021 in central and eastern areas, with associated high levels of acute malnutrition and excess mortality. In areas less affected by the ongoing conflict, where economic activities are occurring at relatively higher levels, and poor households' production capacity is relatively higher, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected.

    In Tigray, poor rural households rely on a combination of crops, labor, and livestock sales to meet the majority of their basic food and non-food needs in typical years. Moreover, PSNP cash and food transfers are also of particular importance, covering a structural food deficit for many poorer households in northern, central, and eastern areas. Given the limited information available on conditions within Tigray, it is difficult to analyze the precise degree to which these food and income sources are currently disrupted. However, available information points to significant disruption to economic functioning in large parts of Tigray since November. Through January, rural households have reportedly been relying on stocks from the 2020 harvest, with those who were able to harvest likely sharing crops with those who suffered crop losses and with relatives who fled from towns. As of February, most poor households in central and eastern Tigray would likely have exhausted the stocks from these harvests.

    Poor households' access to food and income sources is likely to remain significantly restricted through at least September 2021 due to the ongoing conflict and associated constraints. Available information suggests PSNP distributions to households in some high-priority districts began in February alongside ongoing humanitarian assistance, but it is unlikely all PSNP beneficiaries are receiving typical levels of assistance, especially in inaccessible rural areas. For households who have yet to receive PSNP, the loss of PSNP is – on its own – a driver of deficits, as it contributes 30 to 50 percent of poor household's food needs in a normal year. It is also anticipated that poor households lost income from migratory labor due to the disruption in harvesting labor opportunities in western Tigray in November, and it is likely that access to this income source, and to that of construction labor will remain low in the coming months. Livestock sales, which generate cash income that is used to purchase food, as well as other essential non-food items, is important in most areas as well, and with the decline in economic activity, and the drop in livestock prices, income from this source is expected to remain extremely limited as well.  

    Humanitarian food assistance is reportedly reaching some populations in need in Tigray. Distribution reports indicate over three million people have received assistance between December and early March (Figure 1). However, given the scale of the expected deficits, the widespread nature of the impacts, continued access constraints, and reported bureaucratic impediments, concern remains that a substantial proportion of those in need are still not receiving humanitarian food assistance. Looting, imprecise targeting, and some diversion of assistance are also reportedly occurring in some areas. Remote rural areas where conflict is ongoing are of highest concern.

    While economic activity is likely to improve gradually during the projection period, and therefore poor households are likely to benefit from income derived from some agricultural activities and livestock sales, typical food and income sources are nevertheless expected to remain well below average. Furthermore, ongoing constraints on production – including limited labor migration, reduced supplies of, and access to, agricultural inputs, and lower access to credit and oxen – are all likely to undermine cultivation for the upcoming kiremt season. While food assistance is likely to reach some populations in need, it may not reach many of those in remote rural areas. Overall, FEWS NET anticipates many areas of Tigray are likely to face Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes through at least September. If conflict significantly disrupts engagement in cultivation activities beginning in April, this will limit household's ability to access food in the post-harvest period, and high levels of acute food insecurity would likely persist.  


    Current Situation

    Humanitarian assistance needs in Ethiopia are well above-average due to the compounding impacts of weather shocks, desert locusts, the poor macroeconomy, the lingering indirect impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and conflict. Conflict in Tigray, coupled with high levels of continued extremely low levels of economic activity, restricted humanitarian access, and limited food stocks, has resulted in a food security Emergency in eastern and central areas. Furthermore, the uptick in conflict across other parts of the country, including Benishangul Gumuz, Oromia, SNNP, Afar, and Somali Regions, has resulted in further displacement and disruption of livelihood activities.

    National 2020 meher production was slightly below-average nationally, with near-average production in western and central surplus-producing areas, and below-average production in Tigray, eastern Amhara, Oromia, and the Rift Valley areas of SNNPR, due to the impacts of flooding, waterlogging, the desert locust upsurge, and conflict.

    Based on satellite-derived estimates, as well as key informants, deyr/hagaya rains began well in most southern and southeastern pastoral areas in October; however, little to no precipitation occurred in November and December. CHIRPS rainfall estimates suggest deyr rainfall was 60 percent or lower than average across much of the Somali Region (Figure 2). On the contrary, October to December rainfall in belg/hagaya areas of SNNPR and Oromia received average rainfall. Moreover, deda rainfall in northern pastoral areas in January was limited, with only a few sporadic showers.   

    In February, though some scattered showers were observed in western and central Ethiopia, dry conditions prevailed across much of the country. While belg rainfall typically starts in mid to late February, rainfall has yet to start in most belg receiving areas. Despite this, land preparation in belg receiving areas is generally ongoing across the country; however, in conflict-affected areas, engagement in land preparation activities and access to agricultural inputs is lower than normal. 

    According to remote-sensing data, vegetation conditions suggest significantly below-average conditions as of late-February across much of the country, notably in southern areas of SNNPR, Oromia, and neighboring areas of Somali Region (Figure 3). The poor pasture availability is not only due to poor rainfall but also the continued impacts of desert locusts. In southern and southeastern pastoral areas, while pasture and vegetation conditions are low, dry grasses and leaves are still available for livestock to consume. Pasture availability in the lowlands of Bale and Borena zones in Oromia is of high concern with limited pasture available and livestock migrating atypically long distances to access pasture. In northern pastoral areas, heavy flooding in 2020 coupled with the desert locust upsurge have resulted in lower pasture availability, especially along the Awash River basin and areas neighboring Tigray. If gu/genna rainfall does not start in March, low pasture availability will likely lead to some initial deterioration in livestock body conditions.  

    Water availability is of very high concern across Somali Region for livestock and human consumption, driven by the below-average October to December rainfall. The regional government started water trucking to about 50 percent of woredas in the region. In many cases, even if water trucking reaches a village, people often lack materials sufficient for safe longer-term water storage. Furthermore, the lack of water drives livestock to migrate further in search of water to grazing areas farther away.

    According to FAO, in February, while control measures continue against immature swarms, the desert locust upsurge continues. Desert locusts were present in much of Oromia and SNNP regions, including southern areas of the Rift Valley (Figure 4). Light to moderate rainfall in southern areas of the country, likely supporting the maturation of swarms and laying of eggs. This would give rise to another generation of breeding. Since February is not a primary agricultural season, there are no impacts on crops; however, desert locusts continue to consume pasture. In areas where pasture is already low, this further restricts pasture availability in areas where desert locusts are currently located.

    In agricultural and agropastoral areas of the country, livestock conditions and productivity are generally normal. In northern pastoral areas, while pasture conditions are poor, livestock body conditions are near average. Nevertheless, due to livestock losses associated with 2020 flooding and consecutive droughts, herd sizes, and livestock productivity are below-average. Meanwhile, in southern and southeastern pastoral areas, below-average pasture, browse, and water availability have contributed to a deterioration of livestock productivity, production, and conceptions. Generally, in these areas, poor households' livestock holdings remain lower than usual as herd sizes have not fully recovered following significant losses during the 2016/17 drought.

    Macroeconomic conditions continue to remain poor, impacted by the low foreign reserves, indirect impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and conflict, especially in Tigray, where the conflict has resulted in the halt to manufacturing, mining, and sesame production. According to the Central Statistics Authority (CSA), annual inflation was reported at 20.6 percent in February, up from 19.2 percent in January. The increasing inflation is likely due to conflict, increases in transportation costs due to high fuel prices, the widening international trade gap, and reduction in foreign currency reserves and liquidity in banks. In Tigray, many banks remain closed, limiting access to credit and cash across the region.

    Based on an agreement established in 2019 between the IMF and the government of Ethiopia, the Ethiopian National Bank (NBE) continues to devalue the currency on the official market. According to the NBE, the ETB has depreciated steadily against the USD since mid-2019. In February, the official exchange rate was nearly at 40.00 ETB/USD. On average, in February, the parallel market average exchange rate was around 54.00 ETB/USD, 37 percent higher than the official exchange rate (Figure 5). The high inflation rate, deterioration in the ETB, and high international oil prices are driving up petrol prices across the country.

    Generally, the movement of goods from surplus to deficit-producing areas of the country is normal; however, some disruption to trade flows is ongoing due to conflict. Furthermore, high transportation costs are limiting the movement of goods and putting pressure on market supply and prices. Conflict in Tigray (Figure 6), as well as in SNNPR, Benishangul Gumuz, and Oromia, is further limiting trade flows and market function. Cross-border trade and population movement to Sudan and Eritrea from Tigray is also limited to nonexistent as conflict, and border tensions continue, especially at the Metema border point. Some cross-border trade is occurring with Sudan along with the Amhara and Benishangul Gumuz borders continue, but at lower levels than seen prior to the conflict in December. Cross-border trade with most other neighbors is somewhat normal; however, trade with Kenya is slower than normal due to COVID-19 regulations.

    In January and February, staple food prices were stable or moderately increased as the meher harvest was ongoing and became available; however, they remain significantly above average, driven by the poor macroeconomic conditions and conflict. Food prices in conflict-affected areas, notably in Tigray, are generally higher than those in non-conflict affected areas. Additionally, in areas where conflict is more sporadic, like in Oromia and SNNPR, prices spike following conflict then return to near pre-conflict levels. In January 2021, the retail price of maize in Addis Ababa was similar to January 2020, although nearly 75 percent above the five-year average (Figure 7). According to the Zonal DRM office, in Chiro market of West Haraghe, a reference market for eastern Ethiopia, maize prices in January were over 100 percent higher than average and the same time last year.

    Livestock prices are variable across the country. In western non-conflict affected areas of the country, livestock prices are generally above average. Although, livestock prices in southern and southeastern pastoral areas continue to decline and are below average due to poorer than usual body conditions of livestock following the below-average deyr/hagaya rainfall (Figure 8). The stability in livestock prices coupled with the increasing and very high staple food prices is reducing livestock-to-cereals terms-of-trade (ToT), disfavoring pastoralists. In northern pastoral areas, available information suggests that price trends are similar to that of southern and southeastern pastoral areas.

    Since the lifting of COVID-19 related movement restrictions in 2020, economic and social activities have increased across the country, improving access to income. Public transportation has resumed, reaching full capacity. People move from place to place freely and are engaged in petty trading, street marketing, and other labor activities. Moreover, while there was a large decline in those who rely on income from the service industry and tourism, some improvement in income access has likely occurred, although remaining below average. Daily laborers from rural areas are mainly engaged in construction, agriculture, and commerce to access income; however, labor mobility and migration are limited due to conflict in many areas. In non-conflict affected areas, poor households' income is generally higher than in conflict-affected areas of the country; however, in all areas, this income remains below average.

    Due to the high number of returnees from the Middle East and neighboring countries in 2020 associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, the frequency and quantity of remittances are likely lower than normal. This is resulting in a further decline in household income.

    Conflict in Ethiopia increased significantly in late 2020/early 2021, not only associated with the conflict in Tigray but also conflict in Benishangul Gumuz, SNNPR, and Oromia. In affected areas, conflict is the primary driver of acute food insecurity, as it typically causes displacement, a decline in market functioning, and associated disruptions of typical livelihood activities. Conditions in Tigray are of most concern as ongoing conflict, accessibility challenges, and the subsequent disruption to economic activity, along with lower-level government functioning, market functioning, and limited population movement, are constraining households' access to food and income. Moreover, in Tigray, conflict and looting have led to limited to social services, including electricity, water, telecommunications, and health services.

    According to the IOM, in 2020, nearly 2.0 million people were displaced, primarily due to conflict. According to IOM, data collected between late December and mid-January, over 131,500 people were displaced across 39 sites in Tigray, Amhara, and Afar, with the conflict in Tigray driving a large portion of these. Moreover, since only a few woredas were assessed by IOM in Tigray, it is likely the displaced population is higher than what has been reported.

    Furthermore, according to UNHCR, more than 61,000 people have fled to Sudan, some traveling on foot for long distances. Also, according to UNHCR, About 90,000 Eritrean refugees who had been living in refugee camps in Tigray have also been caught up in the conflict, with an estimated 6,000 relocated to two camps. Additionally, according to OCHA, in the second half of 2020, in Wollega zones of Oromia, over 98,000 people were displaced due to conflict. In other parts of the country, notably, the Metekel Zone of Benishangul Gumuz, Guji, East and West Wollega zones of Oromia, and some areas of Somali, SNNP, and Afar regions, conflict has not only led to displacement, but also disrupted market and trade functioning, economic activity, and households' ability to engage in their normal livelihood activities. According to the IOM, nearly 95,000 people were displaced due to conflict in the second week of January in Benishangul Gumuz and SNNPR. Based on information from the IOM and UNHCR, cumulative displacement from Benishangul Gumuz is over 200,000, with some of the displaced populations also fleeing to Amhara. Most of those displaced in Benishangul Gumuz come from Metekel Zone.

    The Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP) transfers started in February across most of the country for those enrolled in the Public Works program and continued for direct beneficiaries. Some delays to distributions in February were reported due to the conflict in Tigray and associated disruptions to government systems.  PSNP distributions in Tigray have been wrapped into humanitarian food assistance. 

    Based on distribution reports aggregated by OCHA, between December and late February, emergency assistance and PSNP resources have reached over three million people by JEOP, WFP, NDRMC, and others in the Tigray Region. Available information suggests most distributions are ongoing in accessible areas, predominately in towns and along roads, with less assistance likely reaching remote rural areas as conflict continues to restrict access. Some reports also point to looting, imprecise targeting, and diversion of assistance. Concern remains that a substantial proportion of those in need are not receiving sufficient assistance given the scale and magnitude of expected consumption deficits, alongside access constraints and the disruption of lower-level government structures that typically support assistance distributions and reported bureaucratic impediments.

    Food assistance delivery from the previous year is typically carried over into the following calendar year. Currently, humanitarian actors are distributing assistance from rounds planned for 2020. In areas outside of Tigray, JEOP is reaching nearly 1.4 million people across the country, with rounds six and seven from 2020 distribution. Available information on distributions by WFP and NDRMC indicate delivery of rounds six and seven are ongoing and nearly complete, reaching over five million people, including IDPs. Households are receiving a full ration with each round of assistance delivery.

    In 2020 and early 2021, the number of Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) cases reached unprecedented high levels, with nearly 440,000 children admitted to TFP centers nationwide, which is about a 15 percent increase compared to 2019 (Figure 9). The highest increase in caseload from 2019 to 2020 was in Oromia and Somali regions. MUAC screenings from Tigray in January and February show a concerning and deteriorating nutrition situation. While it is likely declining food consumption is contributing to the increased and high levels of malnutrition, the change in the cutoff for MUAC screening to the global standard, a decline in nutrition programming, and poor sanitation nationwide is also contributing to the increase in TFP admissions.

    In many western and central surplus producing areas of the country, households are consuming own foods from the meher harvest and accessing income through livestock sales, and, as a result, Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are present. However, in Benishangul Gumuz, conflict is driving displacement and disrupting access to markets and livelihood activities. As a result, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are present, with Metekel Zone in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) as a high number of new IDPs are facing difficulty access income given limited labor opportunities among them and host communities.

    In many southern and southeastern pastoral areas, many poor households are having difficulty meeting their food and non-food needs, as below-average milk production and low purchasing power are limiting food access. Furthermore, anticipated low quantities of remittances and low income from labor coupled with high food prices are further contributing to limited food access. As a result, despite PSNP transfers, many poor households are in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). Conversely, in Jijiga and Fafan Zones of northern Somali Region, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are present due to average to above-average karan rainfall, which supported the rejuvenation of pasture, increasing livestock production, productivity, and market value, in turn increasing poor households' access to food and income.

    Similar to southern pastoral areas, in northern pastoral areas of Afar, the seasonal deterioration of pasture and water and below-average herd sizes, and lower access to remittances are driving Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. However, areas that border Oromia Zone of Amhara and along the Awash River catchment, access to income is near average due to average agricultural production and better pasture and water availability, and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcome persist.

    In the lowlands of eastern and southern Oromia, bordering SNNPR, and southern and eastern parts of SNNPR in parts of the central Rift Valley, poor households have likely already consumed their own crops from the meher harvest and are market reliant with below-average purchasing power due to high staple food prices. In some areas where JEOP is distributing assistance, poor households are able to meet their food needs and Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes are present. In some areas where access to income is relatively better, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are ongoing.

    In the lowlands of Waghimra around the Tekeze River catchment, food stocks from the meher harvest are depleted. A majority of poor households depend on labor for income; however, income is limited even as PSNP begins. Although, Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes are ongoing due to ongoing emergency food assistance delivery, which is improving food access. In adjacent areas, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are present.

    In Tigray, the region of highest concern, most households have depleted their food stocks.  While humanitarian assistance and PSNP distributions are currently ongoing in much of central and eastern Tigray, it is unlikely distributions are reaching all populations in need, in particular in remote rural areas, and access to other sources of food and income likely remain very low. Of highest concern are central and eastern areas where Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are present.


    The most likely scenario from February to September 2021 is based on the following national-level assumptions:

    • Given the nature of COVID-19, the evolution of cases, and likely limited vaccine availability, the pandemic is anticipated to persist throughout the projection period. Measures to limit people movement are expected in some localized areas, mostly around larger towns, as the cumulative number of COVID-19 increases. 
    • Economic conditions are expected to continue to deteriorate as the macroeconomy contracts with the government's inability to access hard currency for debt repayment. This is expected to drive further depreciation in the ETB and a high inflation rate through at least the end of 2021. The continued currency depreciation is expected to limit imports from the international market.
    • March to May genna/gu rainfall in southern pastoral areas and sugum/dirac rainfall in northern pastoral areas is likely to be below average with some localized areas of average rainfall.
    • February to May belg rainfall is likely to be below average across belg-receiving areas of Tigray, Amhara, the central Rift Valley, and eastern Ethiopia.
    • 2020 kiremt rainfall from June to September and July to September karan/karma rainfall are expected to be average.
    • Flooding, which typically peaks in August and September along seasonal rivers and riverine areas of Oromia, SNNP, Gambella, and Amhara regions, is likely to be average with some negative impacts on crop conditions.
    • Despite the expectation of higher levels of control operations in 2021 than in 2020, the desert locust upsurge is anticipated to continue through at least September, especially in the lowlands of Oromia and Somali Regions ad Rift Valley areas of SNNP as control measures are likely to be insufficient to limit the upsurge and insecurity is likely to limit control operations. Given the life cycle of desert locusts and the likelihood of below-average belg and gu seasons, coinciding with the regeneration of rangeland, this will likely enable a new wave of breeding in March and April. In areas with no control measures, most likely in localized eastern areas of the country, large-scale crop and pasture losses are expected.
    • In southern and southeastern pastoral areas, pasture availability is expected to improve to near-average levels with genna/gu rainfall, supporting near-normal pasture needs of livestock; however, an atypical decline in pasture is anticipated during the dry season due to the likely consecutive below-average seasons. Areas worst affected by desert locusts with below-average rainfall will likely have a higher rate of decline in pasture availability following the gu season. Moreover, conflict in some bordering areas is expected to limit some typical grazing areas for livestock, increasing the rate of decline of pasture in affected areas. The current high-water crisis all over Somali Region is expected to continue.
    • In northern pastoral areas, pasture and water availability are expected to improve to average levels with the start of the sugum/dirac season for a short period; however, deterioration in pasture is expected to start earlier than normal due to the poor rainfall.
    • Livestock body conditions, production, and productivity in all pastoral areas are expected to remain below-average, with milking nearly half of average through at least September due to below-normal pasture availability coupled with lower-than-normal herd sizes. In localized areas of southern and southeastern pastoral areas, livestock body conditions and productivity will likely remain below average until the start of the 2021 deyr/hagaya season due to poor gu rainfall.
    • Belg land preparation, planting, and the associated harvest is expected to be near-average, predominately in SNNPR; however, in areas affected by conflict and forecast below-average belg rainfall in Amhara, Tigray, Oromia, Benishangul Gumuz, and Gambella will most likely be below-average. In some of the worst-cases, households will likely have limited access to agricultural inputs and are not expected to participate in the season.
    • Land preparation activities and planting associated with meher production are anticipated to be average across the country; however, engagement is likely to be lower than normal in conflict-affected areas.
    • Local agricultural and migratory labor availability will most likely be below average due to unfavorable climate conditions, continued indirect impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and conflict; however, slightly better than last year. Beginning in June, seasonal improvement in labor availability is anticipated, although remaining below-average; however, engagement in migratory labor is not expected to improve due to continued conflict. In worst conflict-affected areas, engagement in migratory and agricultural labor is anticipated to remain extremely limited, specifically in Tigray, Benishangul Gumuz, and Oromia.
    • Household income from self-employment, including petty trading and street vending, and construction labor, is expected to improve gradually; however, they remain below average, associated with the poor macroeconomic conditions, conflict, and increasing cost of living.
    • Remittances from Middle Eastern and neighboring countries are expected to remain below average as there have been a continued high number of returnees from these countries; however, remittances from western countries are expected to increase, remaining above average. Remittances from urban areas to rural areas, an important income source for many poor households, are likely to be lower than normal.
    • Trade flows and market supply of staple foods are expected to remain at seasonally normal levels; however, in Tigray, conflict is expected to drive limited to no trade flows and subsequent lower than normal market supply.
    • Due to macroeconomic market pressures, high transportation costs, disruption in market supply and trade flows, and conflict, staple food prices are anticipated to be above-average, although following seasonal trends through at least September. In conflict-affected areas like Tigray, staple food prices are expected to continue to increase (Figure 10).
    • Livestock prices are likely to follow seasonal trends remaining above-average; however, they are expected to start declining in August associated with the deterioration in livestock body conditions following the below-average gu/genna. The purchasing power for the sale of livestock to purchase food is expected to remain near to slightly below average but to slowly deteriorate in 2021.
    • Nutrition outcomes are anticipated to deteriorate across the country, particularly in conflict-affected areas of Tigray through at least September, as conflict is expected to limit food access. In southern and southeastern areas and areas of Tigray, nutrition outcomes are expected to be most severe (Serious (Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) 10-14.9 percent) to Critical (GAM 15-29.9 percent)) during the dry season from June to September.
    • Increased ethnic, political, and election-related conflict is expected through at least September across the country. Conflict in localized areas of Tigray, especially in eastern and central areas of the region, is expected to continue at current levels. Elections planned for June will most likely occur across all regions except Tigray, which is expected to drive an increase in electoral violence and protests during the registration, campaign, and election proceedings. Ethnic tension and conflict in Oromia, Benishangul Gumuz, and SNNPR will likely continue, with a likely escalation in violence in Oromia in the lead-up to the elections. Conflict is also anticipated to continue at current levels between communities in Oromia, Afar, Somali, and Amhara regions due to increased competition for rangeland and water in the lowlands of southern and northern pastoral areas, likely during the dry seasons.
    • Conflict over the border demarcation between Sudan and Ethiopia will continue at recently elevated levels, with the border militarization leading to a continuation of isolated skirmishes between actors, though not escalating to full-blown inter-state fighting. Tensions will likely increase ahead of the elections, and after June, when issues over water rights could result in increased political rhetoric, coinciding with meher agricultural activities. This is anticipated to disrupt and damage livelihood, market, and cross-border activities.
    • The above-anticipated conflict is expected to drive increased internal and international displacement from current levels observed in affected areas of the country and the movement of refugees into Ethiopia from neighboring countries. It is likely to be lower than previous years, with a likely net outflow of refugees from Ethiopia to Sudan and other neighboring countries.
    • Based on historical trends, humanitarian actors are expected to distribute at least three rounds of 2021 assistance through September. Due to the expected severity of food security conditions, the Prioritization Committee will prioritize response to prevent the further deterioration in food security outcomes in the worst-affected areas across the country. Although delivery of this assistance is likely to be irregular and delayed and in areas where humanitarian access is constrained, especially in conflict-affected areas of Tigray, SNNPR, Benishangul Gumuz, and Oromia, assistance is expected to be limited. PSNP transfers will most likely begin in February and will continue through at least July; however, disruption of distribution due to conflict is anticipated. In Tigray, PSNP is likely to be distributed alongside humanitarian assistance, it is unlikely that all PSNP beneficiaries will be reached at required levels.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Food assistance needs and the severity of acute food insecurity are expected to remain atypically high in 2021 due to high levels of conflict, coupled with the compounding impacts of weather shocks and poor macroeconomic conditions. Food assistance needs are expected to increase through the peak of the lean season in June to September, with many central and eastern areas expected to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. The highest severity of acute food security is anticipated in Tigray.

    In much of Tigray, while it is assumed that economic activity is expected to improve slowly, households are likely to engage in agricultural activities during the upcoming growing season, and that some food assistance is likely to reach populations in need, households are nevertheless expected to face continued significant constraints in accessing food and income through at least September. As a result, FEWS NET anticipates many central, eastern, and northern areas of Tigray will likely face Emergency (IPC Phase 4), with associated high levels of acute malnutrition and excess mortality. In some neighboring areas, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to persist. While income and food access are expected to be limited, it is expected to be somewhat better than most adjacent areas. This is due to the expectation of improved market functioning and market access.

    Moreover, in these areas, households are expected to access some labor income to purchase food. In western Tigray, where household production is relatively higher than in other areas of Tigray, household food stocks are expected to last until April/May, after which, households are expected to have access to somewhat near average income through agricultural, construction, and migratory labor. However, purchasing power is expected to be below average due to continued high food prices. Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected through the outlook period; however, some populations are expected to be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) in these areas.

    In southern and southeastern pastoral areas, household access to basic food and non-food needs are expected to remain constrained with Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes throughout the outlook period. Household access to income from livestock sales, labor, and remittances is expected to remain below-average, with income from livestock sales relative to staple food prices expected to decline. Thus, household income levels will be lower and purchasing power will be undermined and with many unable to meet their food consumption needs. Household access to food and income is expected to be particularly restricted during the lean seasons from February to April and July to September. Most households in Jijiga and Fafan zones in northern Somali Region are expected to face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes through September. This is due to the favorable karan rainfall that supported water and pasture rejuvenation, increasing livestock production and productivity, and market value. Additional food from milk and crop production is increasing access to food for households, and increased income is enhancing purchasing power. 

    Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to continue in most northern pastoral areas due to the seasonal deterioration of pasture and water, resulting in below-average livestock production and market value. Moreover, small herd sizes and milk availability, and continued recovery from 2020 flooding is expected to drive limited ability for households to earn income. As a result, households' purchasing power will be undermined, with many unable to meet their food consumption needs. On the other hand, in areas bordering the Oromia Zone of Amhara and along the Awash River catchment, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected to emerge during the June to September period as households are expected to access agricultural labor and pasture, and water availability is driving improvements in livestock body conditions. This is expected to support household's ability to meet their food needs.

    In the South Omo Zone of  SNNPR Region, flooding disrupted many household livelihood activities and crop production in mid-2020. With households expected to face their second consecutive poor seasons from March to May 20201, with below-average purchasing power, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are likely during the scenario period. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are also expected in some meher-dependent areas, where production was below-average due to flooding. Household access to labor is expected to be below-average due to the compounding impacts of conflict, likely below-average February to May rainfall, and continued recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic driving below-average purchasing power. In other areas of SNNPR, below-average income associated with the likely below-average belg rainfall and decline in available labor opportunities are expected to drive insufficient purchasing power.

    In mid-and lowland areas of SNNPR, lower than normal purchasing power is expected due to declines in agricultural and migrant labor opportunities. Moreover, households will have little to no access to stocks from their own harvests, especially during the lean season from March to May. As a result, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are anticipated between February and May. Although as the belg harvest becomes available, many households are expected to start accessing own crops with the belg harvest, which is expected to improve household food access with Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes expected to emerge in June and persist through at least September.

    In the lowlands of eastern and southern Oromia, bordering SNNPR and Somali Region in parts of the central Rift Valley, household food stocks are likely to be exhausted earlier than usual due to the below-average meher harvest. Particularly in East and West Hararhge, southern Oromia bordering Somali Region and the lowlands of central Oromia, poorer households have reduced coping capacity following consecutive poor production seasons, conflict-related displacements, and low asset holdings. In these areas, most households are expected to rely on purchasing food with escalated price levels that undermine their purchasing power, with resulting Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. In some areas where access to income is relatively better and security allows for population movement, and households can purchase some food for consumption, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected to persist.

    Areas of eastern Amhara, belg-dependent areas of South and North Wollo Zones, households are likely to exhaust their harvests one to two months earlier than normal due to the likely below-average belg harvest. Households are expected to increasingly rely on markets to access staple foods as staple food prices remain incredibly high and increase.  Low income from agricultural labor is expected to restrict access to food for households relying on markets. Households displaced from Tigray to Amhara are likely to face difficulty accessing food due to below-average income levels and high staple food prices. As a result, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to persist among the displaced population through the outlook period.

    Most western and central surplus-producing areas are expected to continue to face Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes, except in some areas affected by conflict with a high concentration of IDPs, where Stressed (IPC Phase 2) or Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected. This is due to high staple food prices that are expected to limit the household's ability to purchase sufficient food, below-average income access, and disruption to normal livelihood activities. As some IDPs are expected to return to their place of origin, they are likely to start re-engaging in their normal livelihood activities and start to access the green harvest in August. They are expected to experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) during the June to September period.

    Events that Might Change the Outlook

    Possible events over the next eight months that could change the most-likely scenario.



    Impact on food security outcomes


    Deterioration in security with an associated increase in conflict

    Further restriction to income and food access as well as economic activity. This would also lead to a decline in humanitarian and service access, increasing the population facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes.  


    Substantial improvement in security and decline in conflict

    Improvement in access to normal livelihood activities, resumption in economic and market activities, and widespread access to humanitarian and service distributions. This would lead to widespread improvement in food and income access, resulting in a decline in the food insecure population and severity of food security outcomes.

    Northwestern Amhara

    Border conflict with Sudan

    Livelihood activities would be disturbed, with a large disruption to agricultural activities for the kiremt season. Significant disruption on cross border trade, Labor migration would be minimal and will also affect the export oilseed. This would increase the population facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes. 

    Southern SNNPR, eastern Somali region, and areas of the Rift Valley in Oromia

    The increased scale of the upsurge in the desert locust with a higher concentration of swarms

    The availability of pasture for livestock will likely be lower than usual, and high crop losses would occur, decreasing households' access to own foods and decrease livestock production.

    Southern and southeastern pastoral areas

    Failure of gu

    Pasture and water deteriorated, livestock body condition emaciated, further resulting death of few livestock milk and income from livestock significantly decline with a likely deterioration in acute food insecurity beginning in during the June to August period.



    For more information on the outlook for specific areas of concern, please click the download button at the top of the page for the full report. 


    Figure 1

    Figure 1

    Source: FEWS NET analysis of OCHA data

    Figure 2

    Current food security outcomes, February 2021

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 3


    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 4

    Figure 2

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    Figure 5

    Figure 3

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    Figure 6

    Figure 4

    Source: FAO

    Figure 7

    Figure 5

    Source: CSA; NBE; FEWS NET estimates

    Figure 8

    Figure 6

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 9

    Figure 7

    Source: FEWS NET-ETBC price data

    Figure 10

    Figure 8

    Source: FEWS NET-ETBC price data

    Figure 11

    Figure 9

    Source: ENCU

    Figure 12

    Figure 10

    Source: ETBC/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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