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Acute food insecurity remains severe in northern and southern Ethiopia

  • Key Message Update
  • Ethiopia
  • March 2024
Acute food insecurity remains severe in northern and southern Ethiopia

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Emergency (IPC Phase 4) and Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes are expected to remain widespread in Tigray and northeastern Amhara. With the onset of the belg rainy season, households are diverting limited income to the purchase of inputs for crop cultivation, leaving them with little income for food and heavily reliant on severe coping strategies and humanitarian food assistance. Livelihoods in these areas were decimated during the 2020 to 2022 conflict, followed by minimal 2023 harvests associated with the drought in areas of Tigray and woredas along the Tekeze River catchment in Tigray and Amhara regions. While food assistance is mitigating household engagement in severe coping strategies and food consumption deficits, many households continue to rely on begging and migrating to towns for food. High levels of acute food insecurity are expected to persist until the next harvest becomes available in September/October. 
    • In the pastoral south and southeast, the gu/genna season typically begins between mid-March and early April.  Rainfall to date has been below average in areas of the lowlands of East Hararghe, West Hararghe, Bale, Guji, Borena of Oromia, and most of the Somali Region. Forecasted rainfall in early 2024 is anticipated to be sufficient to improve the availability of milk and livestock holdings, which are likely to increase moderately. Nonetheless, poor households in areas severely affected by the 2020 to 2023 drought – particularly in Afder, Liban, Dawa, and parts of Shabelle and Borena zones – continue to face severe challenges due to limited access to credit and milk due to low livestock holdings, coupled with a lack of livestock to sell for purchasing food. Consequently, Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are expected through May in these areas. Food security conditions are expected to more substantially improve by June as increased milk availability and income supports recovery from the drought, with widespread Crisis (IPC Phase 3) most likely.
    • In northern pastoral areas, the March to May diraac/sugum rains mainly started on time in early/mid-March in Sitti Zone but were slightly delayed in Fafan Zone. Overall, rainfall has been generally favorable across all areas. Rainfall is expected to improve pasture availability and support improvements in livestock body conditions and milk availability throughout the projection period. However, in northeastern areas impacted by the 2020 to 2022 conflict in Tigray, households still have minimal livestock holdings and will, therefore, experience few benefits from the improvements in livestock body conditions. As a result, Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are expected in these areas. 
    • In cropping areas of central, southern, and northern Ethiopia, mid-February to March marks the start of the belg rainy season. The timely and favorable rains have facilitated land preparation and planting activities, with land preparation of belg crops nearly complete in Sidama, South Ethiopia, Central Ethiopia, and Southwestern Ethiopia regions. Planting activities are expected to be completed by the end of March/early April. A key anomaly, however, is lowland woredas of West Arsi Zone of Oromia, where farmers planted crops in mid-February but experienced dry conditions in early March, driving concerns for negative effects on crop development. In northeastern Amhara and southern Tigray, where rainfall is favorable for land preparation for belg and meher crops and planting of belg crops, farmers with limited livelihood assets are expected to sell some of their assets to access seeds for planting. To date, In Tigray and Amhara regions, the regional Disaster Risk Management Commission (DRMC )reports area planted with crops, mainly teff and barley, has reached 75 percent of the plan. Nationwide, according to the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), as of mid-March, the total area prepared reached 67 percent of the average, while only 25 percent of the planned area planted had occurred. However, at the regional level, the report also indicates about 75, and 53 percent of typical cropping areas have been planted in Amhara and Tigray, and Sidama, respectively. Area planted is expected to improve towards April.
    • Staple food prices in February have increased slightly in some markets compared to January due to a decline in supply. For instance, in Addis Ababa, the price of maize in February increased by 7 percent compared to previous months. In Sekota in Amhara Region, white sorghum prices in February were around 5 percent lower than January but still nearly 45 percent higher than the three-year average. The overall increase in staple food prices continues to weaken the purchasing power of poor and very poor households heading into the typical lean season (March to June for belg areas, and July to September for meher areas). 
    • According to the Food Cluster, around 3.5 million people nationwide received food assistance in February. This is a slight decline from January, when roughly 3.8 million people were reached with food aid. In February, most distribution took place in Tigray, where around 2.0 million people were reached with food assistance. The remainder of the aid was distributed in Afar, Amhara, Oromia, and Somali regions. In Amhara Region, food aid distribution and humanitarian movement are being slowed by fuel shortages, road closures, and poor internet connectivity due to conflict.  
    • The number of children admitted to therapeutic feeding programs (TFP) declined from December to January in many regions, following improved access to food from the meher harvest. However, admissions to TFP programs then increased in February as many households exhausted food from their own production. In northern Ethiopia, levels of acute malnutrition remain high and of concern, with a recent SMART survey in Wag Himra Zone of Amhara Region indicating concerning levels of acute malnutrition in the Alert to Critical range. In Afar, the level of TFP admissions in January were 26 percent higher than the previous month; furthermore, a mass MUAC screening carried out in all six of Afar’s zones in January showed proxy GAM levels ranging from 14.2 to 30.2 percent, indicative of Critical or Extremely Critical levels. Meanwhile, in Somali Region, five zones reported an increase in the share of TFP admissions categorized as children with Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM), suggesting deterioration in severity even though total monthly admission numbers remained similar from January to February. Of the five areas, Afder Zone experienced the highest increase. The majority of the woredas with cases were located in Afder, Liban, and Dawa zones, accounting for over 42.5 percent of the region’s total SAM cases. 


    Recommended citation: FEWS NET. Ethiopia Key Message Update March 2024: Acute food insecurity remains severe in northern and southern Ethiopia, 2024.

    This Key Message Update provides a high-level 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. Learn more here.

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