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Severe food insecurity is expected through early 2022 due to conflict, weather, and economic shocks

  • Food Security Outlook
  • East Africa
  • July 2021 - January 2022
Severe food insecurity is expected through early 2022 due to conflict, weather, and economic shocks

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Food insecurity ranges from severe to extreme in conflict-affected areas of Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Yemen, where millions of people need urgent humanitarian food assistance. In Tigray region of Ethiopia, Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are likely despite a relative decline in active conflict since late June, and it is possible that outcomes are worse in some areas. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes characterized by widening food consumption gaps and high acute malnutrition also persist in South Sudan and Yemen. Large-scale food and non-food assistance, an end to hostilities, and unhindered humanitarian access are necessary to save lives.

    • In addition to conflict, weather shocks continue to be a main driver of Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes in the East Africa region. In the eastern Horn and northern Uganda, for example, many households have already lost food and income due to the impacts of irregular rainfall on crop and livestock production in early-to-mid 2021. Multiple climate forecast models also predict a third consecutive below-average rainfall season will occur in the eastern Horn in late 2021. A multi-season drought is expected to further diminish household and market food stocks, suppress household income from crop and livestock-related labor and sales, push up food and water prices, and lead to resource-based conflict. Coupled with other concurrent shocks – such as conflict and insecurity – food assistance needs will remain high and above average in Somalia, southern and southeastern Ethiopia, and northern and eastern Kenya through at least early 2022. Some households in these areas may deteriorate to Emergency (IPC Phase 4).

    • Economic shocks are expected to exacerbate the severity of acute food insecurity in parts of the region, especially in Ethiopia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Yemen. Local currency depreciation, inflation, high import and fuel costs, and other factors are sustaining high staple food prices and limiting economic activity, which in turn restricts household purchasing power. In Sudan, for instance, FEWS NET estimates that poor macroeconomic conditions layered with protracted conflict in parts of Darfur, Kordofan, and Red Sea states and widespread seasonal floods are pushing food assistance needs nearly 50-60 percent above the five-year average.

    • The COVID-19 pandemic also continues to affect food insecurity, especially among urban households in Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda and refugees in Uganda. Renewed movement restrictions imposed in April and May to mitigate rising COVID-19 infections led to reductions in economic activity and higher public transportation costs. In Uganda, food assistance to refugees is likely inadequate to mitigate the loss of income, which was already very limited prior to the pandemic; as a result, Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes persist.



    • Above-average 2021 Season B crop production and access to typical income sources are supporting Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes across Burundi. Above-average Season B crop production, dominated by beans, and improved food access and food security outcomes in the Northern Lowlands livelihood zone are likely driving Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food security outcomes during the harvest and post-harvest period of June to September 2021. Poor and very poor households in the Eastern Lowlands livelihood zone will likely experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes through the outlook period due to below-average crop production and income sources, negatively affected by the Tanzanian border closure.
    • Favorable 2021 Season B harvests led to seasonal price decreases for beans, sweet potato, and cassava, resulting in improved food access. On the other hand, maize prices seasonally increased slightly since June, following the exhaustion of 2021 Season A stocks.
    • Despite the reopening of borders with DRC on 1 June 2021, COVID-19, screening fees estimated at 15,000 BIF (8 USD) on the Burundi side and USD 30 on the DRC side continue to hamper the free movement of goods and people. This amount is exceptionally high for poor and very poor households relying on wage labor and petty trade. As a result, fees continue to restrict access to typical cross-border opportunities.
    • In addition to poor and very poor households in the Eastern Lowlands, certain populations are expected to face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food security outcomes throughout the outlook period. They are composed by around 32,000 returnees arriving between December 2020 and March 2021 who exhausted their three months of food assistance and 45,000 IDPs in the Imbo Plains livelihood zone with limited income sources.

    For more information, see the Burundi Food Security Outlook from June 2021 to January 2022.


    • The Tigray region of Ethiopia continues to experience one of the worst food security emergencies globally. Urgent humanitarian assistance is needed to save lives. Extreme outcomes are likely through at least January 2022 across the region, with Central, Northwestern, Eastern, and Southeastern Tigray of highest concern. Ultimately, an end to hostilities and unhindered humanitarian access are needed.
    • Since late June, the status of conflict across Tigray has significantly shifted, with the Tigrayan regional forces reportedly claiming to have retaken several major towns, including the regional capital of Mekele, while the government of Ethiopia declared a unilateral ceasefire that has since likely unofficially ended. The decline in active conflict in much of Tigray has opened up the potential for improved humanitarian access and the movement of people within the region; however, the movement of people, goods, and cash into Tigray, including humanitarians and humanitarian assistance, has been significantly restricted, and fuel shortages and weather-related transportation constraints continue to limit access to remote areas of the region. Additionally, as of mid-July there are no available routes overland for the movement of assistance into Tigray. This is contributed to the severe shortages of already limited basic services and supplies, including food, water, fuel, and electricity. It is expected that Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are widespread across Tigray, with associated high levels of acute malnutrition and excess mortality likely. There are likely populations in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5). It is possible that outcomes are worse in some areas, but available evidence is insufficient to confirm or deny.
    • Many southern and southeastern pastoral areas experienced consecutive poor seasons in late 2020 and early 2021, resulting in lower than normal pasture and water availability. These conditions are expected to drive atypical livestock migration and further declines in livestock body conditions and milk production through at least October. Forecast models indicate a third consecutive below-average season is likely during the October to December deyr/hageya period, driving prolonged drought conditions through early-2022. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected in southern and southeastern pastoral areas throughout the projection period, with some households facing Emergency (IPC Phase 4). The exception to this is the Hawd, where Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are ongoing in June and July due to increased access to milk as gu rainfall was favorable, though Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are still anticipated after July.
    • The 2021 belg harvest is expected to be delayed and below average due to a poor distribution of rainfall that led to delayed planting. The harvest is now expected to start in July and August, driving many households in belg-dependent areas to rely on markets longer than normal. This is resulting in an extension of the lean season, and given that the harvest will be below average, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected to continue until the start of the harvest. Food security is expected to improve with the harvest as households start consuming their own crops.
    • In northern pastoral areas, drought conditions through late June resulted in lower than typical pasture availability. However, the karan/karma seasonal rainfall is forecast to be above average, leading to improvements in pasture and water availability in July/August. However, due to previous poor seasons and declines in herd sizes associated with 2020 flooding, poor households' access to food and income is limited, driving Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes across much of the region throughout the projection period.

    For more information, please see the Ethiopia Food Security Outlook from June 2021 to January 2022.


    • The cumulatively below-average March to May short rains across eastern and northern Kenya resulted in below-average crop production activities and associated income from agricultural casual labor activities. In the pastoral areas, below-average regeneration of forage has affected livestock productivity, reflected in declining livestock prices. Below average incomes and household food sources drive mostly Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes across the country and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes in northern Kenya.
    • As indicated by the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), vegetation conditions are over 140 percent of average in north, northwest, southern Kenya, and parts of northeast Kenya (Figure 2). In central and western Kenya, vegetation greenness is 105-130 percent of the average, while eastern Kenya is 75-90 percent of normal, with localized areas along the coast at less than 60 percent of the average. Water availability for livestock across the pastoral areas, apart from Marsabit and Wajir counties, is low and 22-72 percent above average as rangeland resources diminish. This has resulted in increasing livestock migration and declining livestock body condition trends.
    • Staple food prices across the country showed declining trends due to increases in supply from cross-border imports. Maize prices in May were 11-28 percent above the five-year average in Nyeri, Mandera, Wajir, and Garissa due to increased demand for human and livestock consumption and high marketing costs. Maize prices, however, ranged from average and 9-30 percent below average across all markets stabilized by cross-border imports and availability of some substitutes like cassava. In May, dry bean prices were within the five-year average in Taita Taveta and 9-10 percent below average in Kisumu and Eldoret due to a combination of cross-border imports and available local long rains harvests. Across the rest of the markets, bean prices were 9-22 percent above average, driven by sustained demand and low supplies. 
    • As of June 29, Kenya has 183,603 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with a seven-day rolling average of 534 daily confirmed COVID-19 cases. On June 17, due to the detection of three new COVID-19 variants and a steady increase in confirmed daily cases, thirteen counties in western Kenya were placed under additional containment measures, including longer curfew hours, a 30-day closure of nonfood and livestock markets, and the prohibition of public functions and gatherings. Across the rest of the country, the previous restrictions continue. The COVID-19 restrictions are driving Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes among the urban poor as below-average access to income results in households engaging in unsustainable coping strategies to bridge income and food consumption gaps.

    For more information, see the Kenya Food Security Outlook from June 2021 to January 2022.


    • The impacts of two consecutive below-average rainfall seasons on crop and livestock production in late 2020 and early 2021 have driven a sharp increase in the food insecure population in Somalia, especially in rural areas. Drought conditions led to some livestock losses in northern and central Somalia in early 2021 and increased household spending on animal feed and water. Dry spells and the early end of the gu rainfall season also caused crop losses and reduced agricultural labor income. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are widespread.
    • The food insecure population is expected to remain elevated until at least January. Based on FSNAU and FEWS NET’s preliminary estimates, the 2021 gu cereal harvest in July will be at least 30-40 percent below the long-term average (1995-2020), which will diminish a key source of food and income for farmers and drive an increase in local staple food prices in both rural and urban areas. Additionally, poor pastoral households will likely sell more livestock than usual to repay debt and fund food and water purchases during the upcoming prolonged dry season, eroding their livelihoods and coping capacity. Furthermore, long-term forecasts indicate a third consecutive season of below-average rainfall in late 2021, which would likely result in a three-season drought.
    • Humanitarian food assistance plans are significantly under-funded in Somalia, resulting in a 25 percent decline in beneficiaries since January, even as the population in need of food assistance increased. Although an average of 1.52 million people received food assistance monthly from March to May, current and anticipated levels of food assistance are inadequate to prevent Crisis (IPC Phase 3) in many areas. The shortfall in funding is of urgent concern, as past trends show the severity of food insecurity in Somalia can rapidly worsen during multi-season droughts. In a worst-case scenario of rainfall failure, more extreme food security outcomes would be likely. A scale-up in food, water, and livelihoods support is needed to prevent Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes through at least the end of 2021.

    For more information, see the Somalia Food Security Outlook from June 2021 to January 2022.


    • The continued devaluation of the SDG, high inflation, and very high staple food prices have significantly limited household food access in the lean season, resulting in many people requiring emergency food assistance through September 2021. FEW NET estimates food assistance needs are almost 50-60 percent above the five-year average. The worst-affected areas will be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3); however, in the absence of humanitarian food assistance, an increasing number of people will face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse, including parts of Darfur, South Kordofan, Red Sea, and Kassala states and urban centers.
    • Through June, staple food prices remain extremely high, driven by continued local currency devaluation and high inflation, resulting in high production and transportation costs. Food prices are likely to remain high through the next harvest (November-January). Despite some improvements in livestock prices and wage labor rates, household purchasing power remains well below average, negatively impacting household purchasing power.
    • In June, all fuel subsidies were removed as the government works to liberalize the economy. This follows the partial lifting of subsidies in October 2020 on imported wheat, wheat flour, electricity, and LPT cooking gas. However, limited FOREX reserves continue to drive the Sudanese pound's devaluation and maintain the poor macroeconomic situation. The increase in fuel prices is driving high production costs and is expected to impact the planting rate in the mechanized agricultural sectors.

    For more information, see the Sudan Food Security Outlook from June 2021 to January 2022.


    • In June, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are likely among poor households in urban areas with some of the worst-affected households facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes following the reinstatement of stringent COVID-19 movement restrictions for 42 days. Reductions in daily wage-earning opportunities, limited alternatives for earning income, and delayed and inadequate coverage of cash assistance from the government are expected to drive insufficient food access. Although the availability of the bimodal harvest in June is maintaining below-average staple food prices, the loss of income during this period is expected to reduce food access among poor urban households through at least August.
    • Due to persistently poor rainfall through the end of the March to May first season harvests in most of greater northern Uganda are delayed and below-average. As a result, most poor rural households have below-normal income from crop sales and seasonally limited income from other sources. Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are likely in greater northern Uganda through September.
    • In Karamoja, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected through September with some of the poorest households likely in Emergency (IPC Phase 4), particularly in Kaabong and Moroto districts worsened by limited income sources to purchase food. Food insecurity is driven by a delayed and significantly below-average main season harvest, COVID-19 restrictions, and livestock loss through raids, which have together reduced local food availability and household purchasing power. Although the availability of the harvest in October/November will temporarily improve food security, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes will persist in areas where crop harvests are likely to be insignificant.
    • Given below-normal crop production and low capacity to earn income following a reinstated national lockdown, many refugees are expected to face Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes throughout the projection period, meaning that at least 20 percent of refugees in each settlement are likely experiencing slight to moderate food consumption gaps or engaging in negative and unsustainable coping strategies. Humanitarian food assistance, estimated at a 60 percent ration, is likely preventing worse outcomes but is insufficient to meet all basic food needs for many refugee households. Based on available plans from WFP, in-kind assistance is funded through August and cash-based assistance is funded through September. WFP anticipates a pipeline break in funding after September. However, historical trends suggest that additional funding will likely be secured to continue with assistance throughout the projection period, even though ration sizes may be reduced.

    For more information, see the Uganda Food Security Outlook from June 2021 to January 2022.


    • Conflict and poor macroeconomic conditions are expected to continue to drive significantly below-average access to typical sources of food and income throughout the projection period. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to persist at the area level even in the presence of large-scale humanitarian assistance, with worst-affected households expected to face Emergency (IPC Phase 4) or Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) outcomes. Although not the most likely scenario, Famine (IPC Phase 5) would be possible if there is a significant shock to commercial food import levels or if food supply is otherwise cut off from particular areas for a prolonged period.
    • According to key informants, all future rounds of Yemen’s letter of credit (LOC) import financing mechanism have been put on hold due to insufficient government revenue, depletion of Saudi financial support, and the rapidly depreciating local currency. Though currency is typically issued to traders quarterly, the most recent LOC distribution occurred in January 2021. As a result, traders have been accessing foreign currency at increased costs, likely contributing to more rapid food price increases via increased costs of importing both food and fuel. This is driving further reductions in household purchasing power due to the expected inability of most households to expand income-earning. As of the last week of May 2021, the cost of the minimum food basket at the national level was 20 percent higher than the already significantly above-average levels recorded at the beginning of January 2021. Further price increases are expected throughout the projection period.
    • In highland areas, harvesting of winter cereals has recently concluded and summer cereal cultivation is nearing conclusion. The late onset of the first rainy season and high input prices have likely reduced area cultivated under summer cereals. Harvesting of spring cereals has ended in the eastern plateau and is beginning in coastal areas. Food from the harvests will temporarily improve food access for farming households. Meanwhile, some fruit harvesting and, in highland areas, year-round qat harvesting is likely providing some labor opportunities. Overall, profits from crop sales in 2021 are expected to be below average and lower than last year due to high prices of inputs, including fuel.

    For more information, see the Yemen Food Security Outlook from June 2021 to January 2022.

    Remote Monitoring Countries[1]


    • The ongoing 2021 Season B harvest, particularly of Irish potatoes and beans, has significantly increased availability and access to food in rural areas across Rwanda. The harvest also improved market supplies, contributing to reduced national food prices. The improved marketing of agricultural products in the current harvest season relative to 2020/21 Season A, when COVID-19 movement restrictions hampered market accessibility, has increased income access in rural areas. Improved household food availability and access and enhanced income access from crop sales are driving Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes in rural areas.
    • The ongoing COVID-19 vaccination program, which has been constrained by a shortage of vaccines, received an additional 542,900 vaccines in the first week of June 2021.  As the vaccination program progressed and daily cases and fatality rates declined during the first half of June, the Government of Rwanda (GoR) eased restrictions, which resulted in the reopening of businesses, the creation of employment opportunities, and increased income earning opportunities for urban households. However, with an upsurge of COVID-19 cases in the second half of June, the GoR reinstated restrictions. Starting from 23 June 2021, there’s a national curfew from 7:00pm to 4:00am and restricted inter-district movement. Despite this, the increased household purchasing power from improved income access at the start of June, paired with declining food prices is maintaining area-level Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes in urban areas.
    • According to UNHCR, as of May 31, 2021, Rwanda hosted 123,024 refugees and asylum-seekers, who are primarily from the DRC and Burundi and rely on humanitarian assistance to meet basic needs including food. However, the refugees have been negatively impacted by a 60 percent reduction in assistance from WFP since March 2021 in addition to last month’s change in targeting to prioritize a full ration for those considered to be most vulnerable. The moderately vulnerable receive a half ration while the least vulnerable do not receive food assistance. Ration reduction/loss and declining income earning opportunities such as closure of small-scale businesses and the loss of casual labor due to COVID-19 impacts are expected to drive Crisis (IPC Phase 3) acute food insecurity within refugee communities.

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


    [1] 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.


    Table 1. Possible events over the next eight months that could change the most-likely scenario.



    Impact on food security outcomes

    Tigray region of Ethiopia

    A cessation of conflict and unhindered humanitarian access

    An end to the conflict and humanitarian assistance delivered immediately and fully to addresses the required food needs and non-food needs in the region would significantly improve food security outcomes.



    Inability of humanitarian actors to deliver assistance as planned

    Access to food would be significantly reduced for many poor households in affected areas. Beneficiary households would likely face widening consumption gaps until assistance provision resumes, and the ability to share food or resources with others in the community would be severely constrained. Many households would likely quickly exhaust any coping strategies that remain available to them, with worst-affected households likely to face Emergency (IPC Phase 4) or Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) outcomes. Deterioration would be most rapid in areas worst affected by declining purchasing power.

    Bimodal areas of the eastern Horn

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

    Failed rainfall from October to December 2021 (OND rains)

    Although rainfall is already forecast to be below average, failed rainfall is not considered the most likely scenario. If OND rains do fail, more severe crop and livestock losses would be likely. In agropastoral areas, crop production would likely be poor to failed, labor income would be significantly below average, and staple food prices would increase more steeply. In pastoral areas, atypical livestock migration would be likely due to low pasture and water availability and there would be an increased risk of livestock losses and little to no access to milk. An increase in the population in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) would be likely.

    Rural refugee settlements in Uganda

    Significantly reduced ration or no humanitarian food assistance due to funding limitations

    A significant reduction in ration size or total absence of humanitarian food assistance to the newly arriving refugees or old refugees would likely result in wide food consumptions gaps. A high prevalence of severe to critical levels of acute malnutrition outcomes among the poorest refugee households would likely lead to Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes by December or January.

    Figures East Africa seasonal calendar

The rainy season in northern pastoral areas, cropping areas in Ethiopia, and unimodal areas

    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.

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