Skip to main content

Multiple shocks will likely sustain high food assistance needs through at least early 2021

  • Food Security Outlook
  • East Africa
  • July 2020
Multiple shocks will likely sustain high food assistance needs through at least early 2021

Download the Report

  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Protracted conflict, long-term macroeconomic challenges, the economic impacts of COVID-19, weather shocks, and desert locust are causing deterioration in acute food security outcomes in much of the region. Compounding the impact of other shocks, COVID-19 movement restrictions have disrupted demand for labor, export commodities, and services, constrained physical access to income sources, slowed cross-border trade flows, and reduced remittances. Multiple shocks are jointly leading to below-normal household income, higher food and seed prices, and reduced household purchasing power. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes and high food assistance needs will persist into 2021.

    • The severity and scale of acute food insecurity is highest in Yemen, South Sudan, and Sudan, where Emergency (IPC Phase 4) and Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes are present. In Yemen, an estimated 17 to 19 million people are expected to need urgent humanitarian food assistance. The progressive deterioration of food insecurity in Yemen has led to a higher risk of Famine (IPC Phase 5) in a worst-case scenario in which food imports are significantly disrupted for a prolonged period. In South Sudan and Sudan, outcomes will be most severe during the peak of the lean season from July to September, especially in conflict-affected areas of South Sudan, parts of northeastern Sudan, and parts of southern Sudan with large displaced populations. In South Sudan, Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) is possible in areas of highest concern, including in Jonglei, where inter-communal conflict has escalated and households are extremely vulnerable to disruptions in access to markets, food assistance, or other food and income sources.

    • In the greater Horn of Africa, erratic March to May rainfall led to floods and an early end of the rainfall season. June/July harvests will range from near- to below-average on the country level, though the rains supported seasonal improvements in livestock production. Looking forward, the North American Multi-Model Ensemble forecast predicts below-average rainfall is most likely during the October to December 2020 rainfall season in the eastern Horn. Below-average rainfall in drought-prone areas of southeastern and southern Ethiopia, the arid and semi-arid lands of Kenya, and Somalia will lead to crop and livestock production losses, reduced income from agricultural labor and livestock exports, and increased expenditures on water and livestock feed at a time when alternative income sources and social support will still be affected by the economic impacts of COVID-19.

    • Although uncertainty exists with long-range forecasts, preliminary climatological research suggests below-average rainfall is also possible during the March to May 2021 season in the eastern Horn. In the event of two consecutive below-average rainfall seasons, historical trends indicate that food security outcomes could rapidly worsen and lead to higher food assistance needs in the Horn in 2021.



    • High levels of acute food insecurity persist across much of central and eastern Ethiopia due to compounding effects of COVID-19 related restrictions, continued drought recovery, atypically high food prices, conflict-related displacement, weather hazards, and desert locusts. Of greatest concern are areas in north-central Amhara, specifically the Wag Himera Zone, where people and livestock movement are significantly restricted and even with ongoing assistance households still face food consumption gaps, with Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes expected through September.
    • Other areas of high concern in the country include the lowlands of East and West Hararghe, lowlands of Bale, Guji, Arsi, and parts of Borena zone along the Oromia/Somali border, and parts of Somali Region. In these areas, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are anticipated to persist through much of the projection period. This is largely driven by limited access to remittances, low income from casual and agriculture labor given restricted movement, and high food prices.
    • Although belg rainfall was generally favorable, the national belg harvest is expected to be below average due to lower than normal area planted and damage to crops by desert locust. Rainfall from the belg season continued without interruption up until the mid-June start of the kiremt rains, favoring continued engagement in agriculture activities. However, engagement in these activities is somewhat below normal as migratory labor is limited and access to agriculture inputs is below average. Some crop losses associated with desert locusts and flooding coupled with the below-average area planted is also expected to lead to slightly below-average Meher production.
    • Seasonal forecasts suggest a below-average 2020 deyr season is likely. While pasture and vegetation conditions across much of the country are well above the median currently, and the above-median soil moisture may mitigate the impacts of the below-average deyr rains, a deterioration in livestock body conditions, productivity, and prices are still expected in late 2020. While it falls outside of the current projection period, it is worth noting that preliminary research suggests there is a possibility for a below-average March to May 2021 season as well, and past trends indicate food security conditions can deteriorate notably in the Horn of Africa with two consecutive below-average seasons.

    For more information, see the Ethiopia Food Security Outlook for June 2020 to January 2021.


    • COVID-19 control measures and flooding from the above-average March to May long rains have driven widespread Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes, with households in rural and urban areas in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). The population in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) has increased from February 2020. Overall, the above-average March-May short rains led to favorable crop conditions across the country, except in parts of Taita Taveta and Makueni where the rains ended early in late April, and in Nyeri, where rainfall was excessive. Food availability continues to improve with the harvest of early planted crops, vegetables, and green harvests.
    • As of June 30, 2020, Kenya has reported 6,366 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 148 fatalities. The rising number of COVID-19 cases has led to a 30-day extension of the national curfew, social distancing requirements, and enforcement of containment zones at Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps. The movement restrictions in and out of Nairobi metropolitan area, Mombasa, and Mandera have negatively impacted household incomes, and this alongside increases in food and non-food commodity prices is affecting urban poor households' capacity to meet their basic food and non-food needs.
    • In May, the price of maize was 8-22 percent above the five-year average in Nairobi, Garissa, and Mandera, while bean prices were 14-38 percent above average in Nairobi, Mombasa, Eldoret, Makueni and Kitui due to increased demand, and a slowdown in cross-border trade flows due to mandatory COVID-19 testing/screening. Across both urban and rural markets, prices are average or below-average due to traders dumping of stocks in anticipation of the long rains harvests, the availability of substitutes, and lower-priced cross-border imports.    
    • Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes persist across pastoral areas as below-normal livestock assets from previous poor seasons and limited incomes impact poor households’ ability to meet their non-food needs. Despite this, milk production is above average across most counties and average to above-average goat-to-maize terms of trade is supporting poor pastoral households meeting their food needs. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are present in Tana Riverine and Mandera Riverine livelihood zones due to successive flooding events that have led households to lose their crops, homes, and access to typical livelihood activities.
    • Seasonal forecasts suggest that a below-average October to December 2020 short rains season is likely. While pasture and vegetation conditions across much of the country are well above the median currently, a deterioration is likely in late 2020. Preliminary research suggests there is a possibility for a below-average March to May 2021 season, which will likely result in an increase in acute food insecurity in 2020 due to consecutive below-average rainfall seasons.

    For more information, see the Kenya Food Security Outlook for June 2020 to January 2021.


    • The economic impacts of COVID-19, an erratic gu rainfall season, and the desert locust upsurge are driving an increase in the food insecure population and the severity of food insecurity in Somalia. In June, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes persist across the country. A significant scale-up of humanitarian food assistance in May reached 2.2 million people, reducing food consumption gaps at the household level and preventing worse area-level outcomes in parts of northern Somalia. However, nearly 20 percent of the total 2.7 million people in need of food assistance did not access it, including in riverine and rural areas of the South, where humanitarian access is low.
    • The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Somali economy is significant. Poor urban and IDP households, as well as pastoralists in northern Somalia, are likely to be most affected by an estimated 30-50 percent decline in annual external remittances, anticipated 25-35 percent decline in annual livestock exports, lower labor demand, and above-average imported staple food prices. In most IDP settlements and urban areas, at least 20 percent of the population still face food consumption gaps or are engaged in negative livelihoods coping strategies indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3) even after food assistance distributions. Additionally, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected from June to September in parts of central Somalia, where livestock holdings are lowest, and in northeastern Somalia, where the economy is more dependent on livestock, seafood, and frankincense exports.
    • The erratic distribution of rainfall during the April to June gu season has worsened gu cereal production prospects in south-central Somalia. Nationally, the gu harvest in July is now projected to be 30-40 percent below the long-term average. Severe floods in April/May inundated more than 54,000 hectares of farmland, equivalent to more than 20 percent of the 1995-2019 average planted area. In Beletweyne town, 115,000 people remain displaced by the floods. The early end of the gu rainfall season has also led to crop moisture stress in many areas. Although there are no reports of desert locust in the South, damage caused by crickets and other pests has been atypically high. Crop losses are highest in riverine areas and northern Bay Bakool Agropastoral livelihood zones, where Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are anticipated from June to September.
    • During the July to September dry season, up to 3.5 million people are anticipated to be unable to meet their minimum food needs and in need of urgent humanitarian food assistance. Further, the NOAA/CPC NMME forecast predicts an increased likelihood of a below-average deyr rainfall season from October to December 2020. FEWS NET’S research shows the NMME forecast has a strong capability to predict below-average rainfall during the October to December rainfall season in eastern East Africa. Combined with the persistent threat of desert locust, the impact of below-average rains on crop and livestock production is expected to lead to widespread deterioration to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) in northern and central pastoral areas and southern agropastoral areas in the absence of sustained food assistance.
    • While the 2021 gu rainfall season falls outside of the current projection period, preliminary climatological research suggests there is a possibility of a consecutive below-average rainfall season from March to May 2021. Past trends indicate that food security conditions can quickly deteriorate in Somalia in the event of two consecutive below-average seasons.

    For more information, see the Somalia Food Security Outlook for June 2020 to January 2021.

    South Sudan

    • During the 2020 lean season, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes are widespread in South Sudan. The severity and scale of acute food insecurity are high across the country, driven by the loss of productive assets linked to conflict, poor macroeconomic conditions, and large-scale crop and livestock losses during the 2019 floods. At this time of year, the relative importance of food purchased from markets to household food access is seasonally high. Escalating inter-communal conflict in Warrap, Lakes, and Jonglei is also interfering with households’ ability to engage in productive livelihood activities. Emergency (IPC Phase 4) persists in areas most significantly affected by recent or recurrent shocks, especially in Jonglei, Lakes, Warrap, and Upper Nile.
    • Although most COVID-19 restrictions were lifted in May, the overall demand for labor and services remains below normal levels. In urban areas, the decline in daily income coupled with high food prices is likely driving an increase in the number of food insecure households. In rural areas and Protection of Civilian sites, where the known spread of COVID-19 remains low, the direct and indirect impacts on rural households’ health or food security are still low. However, the population’s vulnerability to the health and food security impacts of COVID-19 is very high, based on existing high acute malnutrition prevalence, poor access to health services and WASH infrastructure, and levels of chronic or other illnesses.
    • At the peak of the lean season in July/August, the magnitude and severity of acute food insecurity are expected to increase as household food access becomes increasingly constrained by rising, high food prices. Food insecurity will be most severe in Jonglei, Lakes, Warrap, and Upper Nile, where inter-communal conflict is likely to persist in the near-term and where a forecast of above-average rainfall in eastern South Sudan poses a high risk of flooding. Based on low food availability, high food prices, and limited livelihoods coping options, many households will be extremely vulnerable to disruptions in access to markets, food assistance, or other food and income sources. Under these conditions, Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5)[1] is possible among some households in localized areas in the 2020 lean season. While efforts to distribute double distributions of food assistance to 2.8 million people is underway in June, the effects of insecurity, operational challenges due to COVID-19, and/or seasonal deterioration in road access could delay or impede deliveries.
    • During the post-harvest period, food security is expected to marginally improve to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) in most areas. Based on a forecast of favorable rainfall in western South Sudan but offset by poor access to seeds, 2020 harvests are likely to be similar to or lower than last year. Most rural households with access to arable land are expected to harvest several months of stocks, while milk, fish, and wild food availability will be seasonally high. However, Emergency (IPC Phase 4) is expected to persist in conflict-affected or flood-prone areas of Jonglei, Warrap, Upper Nile, and Lakes, where crop and livestock production prospects are most likely to remain below normal. In the event that the scale of flooding in 2020 is severe in Jonglei or Upper Nile and temporarily prevents households from accessing food sources, it is possible that some households could experience Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) during the post-harvest period.

    For more information, see the South Sudan Food Security Outlook for June 2020 to January 2021.


    • Large numbers of people will require emergency food assistance in Sudan through September 2020, as very high staple food prices and COVID-19 control measures significantly limit food access during the lean season. Worst-affected areas will be in Emergency (IPC Phase 4), including parts of Jebel Marra and South Kordofan, Red Sea and Kassala states. Large populations are expected to be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) in western Sudan and urban centers, such as Khartoum. 
    • Staple food prices remain extremely high, outpacing increases in livestock prices and wage labor rates. In many markets, household purchasing power is well below levels observed in recent years. Beyond the lean season, staple food prices are expected to remain extremely high and, amid the expected continuation of COVID-19 control measures, large numbers of people are expected to require humanitarian assistance.
    • Harvests starting in October will begin to improve food access among agricultural and agropastoral households, and food security should improve from Crisis (IPC Phase 3) to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) for many poor households. Still, large areas of Red Sea state, northern areas of North Kordofan and North Darfur, and conflict-affected areas of Jebel Marra and South Kordofan will remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). Moreover, urban households who typically depend on unskilled labor in urban areas and who lack access to sources of food that improve seasonally (such as harvests or milk from livestock) will continue to face difficulty meeting their basic food needs.

    ​For more information, see the Sudan Food Security Outlook for June 2020 to January 2021.


    • In June, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are likely in urban areas and in rural areas recently affected by floods or landslides, while Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are likely in Karamoja sub region. The start of the bimodal harvest is driving nationwide improvement in food availability and beginning to lead to a decline in staple food prices. However, movement restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 continue to constrain household income sources and food access.
    • As of June 30, the Ministry of Health confirmed a total of 893 COVID-19 cases among Ugandan nationals with a near-90 percent recovery rate and zero case fatality rate. Additionally, UNHCR has reported 52 confirmed cases among refugees. The GoU eased most lockdown measures in early June, but 12 districts – including Adjumani, Arua, and Moyo, which host large refugee settlements – remain under lockdown due to higher clusters of COVID-19 cases.
    • The food security impacts of the March to June lockdown include declines in business activity, labor demand, and domestic and export demand for agricultural products, leading to below-normal household income from casual and agricultural labor, petty trade, and other informal income sources. Despite the gradual easing of movement restrictions, the economic slowdown is forecast to persist into next year. In urban areas, poor households will continue to have difficulty earning enough income to purchase both their food and non-food needs, even though cereal prices are declining with the first season harvest. Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are likely to persist in most urban areas through January. In Kampala, where rural-urban linkages are weakest, some poor households may be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).
    • In rural areas, food availability and access are seasonally improving for poor households in bimodal areas, where the average to slightly below-average first season harvests began in June. Although Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are widespread, areas affected by floods or landslides during the first rainfall season are likely to remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) due to crop losses and below-normal income from labor or crop sales. In Karamoja, food security has deteriorated to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) due to the delayed, below-average main season harvest combined with below-normal household income and reduced interannual safety nets resulting from COVID-19 movement restrictions. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected until September, when the availability of the short-cycle cereal harvest will most likely drive improvement to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes.
    • According to UNHCR and WFP, the refugee response in Uganda is facing a challenge of underfunding. WFP reduced monthly food assistance from a full ration to a 70 percent ration in April. Available information indicates that WFP will continue to deliver a 70 percent ration through September and will reduce the monthly ration to 60 percent from October to January. Since refugees’ dependence on food assistance is very high and COVID-19 movement restrictions are limiting their access to income sources, most refugee households are expected to have food consumption gaps indicative of Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) from July to October. From November to January, increasing freedom of movement to access income sources and the second season harvests will most likely result in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. Uganda currently hosts 1,425,040 refugees and is welcoming an additional 3,000 refugees from the DRC.

    For more information, see the Uganda Food Security Outlook for June 2020 to January 2021.


    • Ongoing conflict continues to disrupt livelihoods, reduce access to income, and drive poor macroeconomic conditions in Yemen. The Yemeni Rial has been depreciating in recent months, contributing to further increases in already above-average prices of food and non-food commodities. Overall, an estimated 17 to 19 million people are expected to be in need of humanitarian food assistance in 2020. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are widespread.
    • While not the most likely scenario, Famine (IPC Phase 5) would be possible in the event that food imports are significantly disrupted for a prolonged period of time. Food import levels observed to date in 2020 have been lower than average, a trend that is expected to persist through 2020 due to declining revenue streams. These trends have contributed to the progressively deteriorating food security situation in Yemen, raising the risk that a Famine (IPC Phase 5) could occur should there be a more significant and prolonged disruption to imports.
    • Due to the restrictive operating environment and resource constraints, WFP has scaled down assistance such that beneficiaries in northern Houthi-controlled areas are being reached every other month instead of monthly, which has reduced assistance by effectively cutting benefits in half. Previously WFP was reaching around 12 million beneficiaries monthly. However, in  April, with the scaling back of assistance in Houthi-controlled areas, WFP reached a total 8.6 million beneficiaries. As a result of limited ability to compensate for ration cuts, an increasing number of households in Houthi-controlled areas are likely facing difficulty meeting their basic food needs.
    • As of June 27, 1,107 cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed in Yemen according to UNOCHA. Available, albeit limited, information suggests that Yemen’s testing rate per capita is among the lowest in the world, with the scale of the outbreak likely much greater than the figures suggest. According to FAO and key informants, demand for labor has been impacted in some areas, attributed to a combination of fear of COVID-19, some localized internal movement restrictions, and the secondary economic impacts of COVID-19, both globally and locally. However, due to the inexorable need for people to earn daily cash income to cover basic requirements, combined with limited capability around the enforcement of control measures, impacts on labor supply are understood to be minimal. According to FAO monitoring data, wages have not been widely impacted by the secondary effects of COVID-19 and in fact have increased in 2020.​

    For more information, see the Yemen Food Security Outlook for June 2020 to January 2021.

    Remote Monitoring Countries[2]


    • The government of Rwanda relaxed most COVID-19 lockdown measures on June 1 and further relaxed restrictions on June 16 following an expansion in COVID-19 testing and tracking. Testing capacity is currently reported by the Ministry of Health at around 4,000 tests per day. Apart from the education sector, all public and private businesses have resumed work under specific health guidelines such as temperature checks and mandatory mask wearing. Transport between provinces is permitted, except to and from Rusizi and Rubavu districts which have been identified as COVID-19 hotspots.
    • Despite the easing of the lockdown measures, poor households in Kigali are unlikely to earn sufficient income to meet their basic food and non-food needs. Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are likely at the area-level, with some worst-affected households in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). On June 8, a 100 billion RWF business recovery fund was launched to support businesses and safeguard employment. Under the assumption of continued absence of COVID-19 related movement restrictions, area-level food security outcomes are likely to improve to Minimal (IPC Phase 1) by October, as incomes and livelihoods return to near normal levels. However, some poor households will remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) or in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) in the absence of assistance.
    • The ongoing Season B harvest is expected to be average nationally. Average to above-average rainfall benefited major crops such as banana, maize, sorghum, and roots and tubers, producing enough to compensate for the production shortfalls of moisture-sensitive beans and Irish potatoes. Crop losses from localized flooding and landslides in Northern and Western provinces did not significantly impact national production. The July to November Season C production in lowland areas is expected to be average to above average as water reserves are currently above-average. As a result, the prices of most staple foods are expected to remain below their five-year averages. Furthermore, COVID-19 restrictions have not notably impacted income among rural populations who are relying heavily on own production. Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are expected throughout the projection period in rural areas, though with some worst-affected households in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) in the absence of assistance.

    For more information, see the Rwanda Remote Monitoring Report for June 2020 to January 2021.


    [1] Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) is when a household group has an extreme lack of food and/or other basic needs even after the full employment of coping strategies. This can occur in the case of a localized situation, or if there is a time-lag between food insecurity, acute malnutrition, and mortality.

    [2] With remote monitoring, an analyst typically works from a nearby regional office, relying on a network of partners for data. Compared to previous series of countries in which FEWS NET has a local office, reports on remote monitoring countries may offer less detail.




    Impact on food security outcomes


    Significant increase in the spread of COVID-19 and intensification of movement restrictions

    Should the COVID-19 pandemic become more widespread in the region, leading to a rising number of cases in rural areas, national governments may re-instate or intensify movement restrictions to control the spread of the virus. Additional economic deterioration would be likely, with detrimental impacts on household income and food sources. An increase in the Stressed (IPC Phase 2), Crisis (IPC Phase 3), and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) populations would be likely, leading to deterioration in food security outcomes in some areas.

    Bimodal areas in the Horn of Africa

    (southern and eastern Ethiopia, northern and eastern Kenya, and Somalia)

    Average rainfall from October to December

    Average rainfall from October to December would help prevent widespread deterioration to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) in rural areas in Somalia and mitigate the population in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) in rural areas in Ethiopia and Kenya. The rains would be critical to sustaining good livestock production conditions and supporting normal crop development, even though the acutely food insecure population would remain atypically high amid other shocks, including poor macroeconomic conditions in Ethiopia, economic shocks related to COVID-19, conflict in Somalia and Ethiopia, and the desert locust upsurge.  


    Food import levels fall dramatically

    Food prices would quickly rise and, if prolonged, food availability on local markets would decline. Food security outcomes would worsen with areas likely to deteriorate to Famine (IPC Phase 5) in a worst-case scenario.

    South Sudan

    Resurgence of political conflict

    A resurgence of political conflict would raise the likelihood of a worst-case scenario in which armed groups would cut off populations from access to food and income sources, including food assistance, for a prolonged period. More widespread Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes would be expected during the post-harvest period. In the event that at least 20 percent of the population were cut off from accessing food sources for a prolonged period, Famine (IPC Phase 5) would be possible.

    Figures Seasonal calendar graphic. The rainy season in northern pastoral areas, cropping areas in Ethiopia, and unimodal areas are fr

    Figure 1

    Seasonal calendar for a typical year

    Source: FEWS NET

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

    Get the latest food security updates in your inbox Sign up for emails

    The information provided on this Website is not official U.S. Government information and does not represent the views or positions of the U.S. Agency for International Development or the U.S. Government.

    Jump back to top