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Conflict, drought in Ethiopia, and flooding in the lowlands drive elevated needs in the region

  • Key Message Update
  • East Africa
  • January 2024
Conflict, drought in Ethiopia, and flooding in the lowlands drive elevated needs in the region

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • In December, humanitarian needs remained elevated and widespread across several parts of East Africa, driven by El Niño-induced flooding in the lowlands of the Horn, drought on top of long-term impacts of conflict in northern Ethiopia, and the ongoing conflict in Sudan. Although the above-average October through December rains were beneficial to large parts of the region by supporting enhanced crop production activities, pasture recovery, and agricultural labor income opportunities, the rains also caused widespread flooding, destruction of infrastructure, and displacement, especially in the lowland and riverine areas of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia. Overall, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes remain present in the drought and conflict-affected areas of northern Ethiopia and in the flood-affected areas of Somalia and Kenya. Meanwhile, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are widespread in Sudan and South Sudan, driven by the impacts of conflict including high levels of displacement and limited income-earning opportunities. In Tigray there is a risk of more extreme outcomes from February onward if food assistance is not scaled up as planned and if social support does not continue. 
    • In the eastern Horn of Africa, the above-average El Niño-induced rainfall was largely beneficial for most areas, supporting enhanced crop cultivation, pasture recovery, and increased agricultural labor opportunities. However, in the lowland and riverine areas, extreme flooding caused displacement, loss of crops and livestock, damage to infrastructure, and disruption to income-generating activities. Despite the benefits of the above-average rains, severe outcomes are expected to persist in much of the region. In Ethiopia, Emergency (PC Phase 4) outcomes are expected to be widespread in the northern drought and conflict-affected areas and in the pastoral flood-affected areas still recovering from drought. In Somalia, except for the areas affected by flooding, the above-average deyr rainfall was largely beneficial for crop and livestock production and has improved food security outcomes. However, Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are expected in flood-affected riverine areas, in the drought-affected Coastal Deeh Pastoral livelihood zone of the central region, and in several settlements for people displaced by conflict and floods. In Kenya, area-level Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are slowly declining in pastoral areas of Marsabit, Turkana, and Mandera, where households are still recovering from the multi-year drought and have been affected by heavy flooding. In the marginal agriculture areas, above-average rainfall is supporting increased production, wage labor opportunities, and incomes, driving improvements from Stressed (IPC Phase 2) to Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes.
    • In Sudan, the ongoing conflict has expanded into the central and eastern parts of the country – major crop producing areas – and continues to drive high humanitarian needs during the December-January typical harvest season. Widespread Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected across much of the country, with Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes in heavily conflict-affected urban areas of Khartoum, Greater Darfur, Greater Kordofan, and parts of Blue Nile. The conflict situation continues to be characterized by extensive looting of public and private property including assets and food stocks; widespread damage to critical infrastructure; disruption of markets, trade flows, and delivery of humanitarian assistance; and the displacement of 7 million people as of  the end of December 2023. The expansion of fighting into important crop production areas is a serious threat to national food production and availability. Disruptions to the harvesting and cultivation of winter wheat are expected to further reduce production levels which are already forecast to be below average. In December, amidst the ongoing harvest, food prices continued to increase due to the disruptions to trade flows, the high costs of production, and the anticipated below-average production. Following the attack and looting of food stocks from a WFP warehouse in Al Jazirah, food assistance remains suspended, putting many people at risk of severe food insecurity outcomes.
    • In South Sudan, high levels of acute food insecurity persisted in December despite being the harvesting period, driven by impacts of conflict, flooding, rising returnee burden, high food prices, low income earning opportunities, and localized below-average harvests. Widespread Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes persisted, with Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes present in 22 counties in Jonglei, Unity, Northern Bahr el Ghazal, Warrap, and Eastern Equatoria. Areas of highest concern are Rubkona of Unity State and Pibor of Greater Pibor Administrative Area, where households are likely in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5). Food security outcomes are expected to further deteriorate in the post-harvest period through the start of the lean season in May, with Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes expected in 28 counties across the north and east of the country.   
    • Most of Uganda and Burundi are experiencing improved food security outcomes aided by the above-average rainfall and harvests. In most of bimodal Uganda, above-average rains supported increased agricultural production through December. This, in combination with below-average staple food prices, has improved food security outcomes from Stressed (IPC Phase 2) to Minimal (IPC Phase 1). In the Karamoja region, poor households are expected to face an early depletion of food stocks from the below-average 2023 harvests, although staple food flows from the neighboring bimodal areas have sustained supply at relatively low prices. The influx of refugees continues to drive high competition among refugees and with host communities for scarce labor opportunities, limiting access to income and food; when combined with seasonal price increases, reduced food assistance, and depletion of food stocks by March, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected through May 2024. Much of western Burundi is expected to experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes through May, supported by stocks from the 2023 Season B harvest, the above-average 2023 Season C harvest, and the expected near-average 2024 Season A harvest. Despite these improvements in food access, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected in the Northern Lowlands livelihood zone, Eastern Lowlands, and Eastern Dry Plateaus through January, driven by early depletion of the 2023 below-average Season B food stocks, high food prices, and restricted cross-border opportunities.
    • In Yemen, conflict continues to be the main driver of acute food insecurity, with devastating impacts on local livelihoods. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes are widespread given the limited livelihood options and above-average food prices, with the worst affected households facing Emergency (IPC Phase 4) or worse outcomes. As of December, WFP had paused all humanitarian food assistance under the General Food Distribution Program to Sana’a Based Authorities (SBA)-controlled areas, affecting around 9.5 million beneficiaries. In the February-May period, area level deterioration to Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes is expected in several governorates where over half of the population previously received food assistance. In Internationally Recognized Government (IRG)-controlled areas, the ongoing blockade of oil exports by the SBA is exacerbating the pre-existing shortages of government reserves and foreign exchange. The local currency is expected to continue depreciating, further increasing prices of food and fuel. Due to these compounding factors, an increase in the number of households facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes is expected through May 2024.

    Recommended citation: FEWS NET. East Africa Key Message Update January 2024: Conflict, drought in Ethiopia, and flooding in the lowlands drive elevated needs in the region, 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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