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Conflict, high prices, and below-average harvests trigger early start of lean season, sustaining elevated humanitarian needs

  • Key Message Update
  • East Africa
  • March 2024
Conflict, high prices, and below-average harvests trigger early start of lean season, sustaining elevated humanitarian needs

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • In March, several parts of East Africa continue to face humanitarian crises characterized by widespread area-level Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes in Sudan, South Sudan, and Ethiopia. The elevated levels of acute food insecurity are primarily driven by the compounding impacts of protracted conflict, poor macroeconomic conditions, and the historic 2020-2023 drought. In Ethiopia and Sudan, this has resulted in an early start of the lean season in several areas. In Sudan and South Sudan, some populations are expected to face Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5), and acute malnutrition and hunger-related mortality are expected to increase. Given the already severe outcomes amid deteriorating conditions, FEWS NET has assessed that there is a risk of Famine (IPC Phase 5) in parts of both countries.
    • In the eastern Horn, a slow start to the March-May rains delayed normal seasonal improvements in crop and livestock production in some areas, though livestock health continues to be buffered by the benefits of the above-average 2023 rains. In Ethiopia, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes persist in the drought-affected pastoral south and southeast, although improvement to widespread Crisis (IPC Phase 3) is expected by June, supported by increased access to milk and income. In the northern pastoral areas of Afar region impacted by the 2020-2022 Tigray conflict, households with minimal livestock holdings are unlikely to benefit from the improved livestock body conditions and forecasted favorable rains, and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) is expected to persist. In conflict and drought-affected Tigray and northeastern Amhara regions, Emergency (IPC Phase 4) and Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes remain widespread. The lasting impacts of the 2020-2022 conflict and poor 2023 harvests have limited household access to food and income, resulting in a high reliance on begging and migration to access food. However, if levels of aid and social support mechanisms markedly decline or are disrupted for an extended timeframe, more extreme outcomes could occur. 
    • In Somalia, off-season crop production in March has contributed to the gradual improvement in access to food and income in riverine and agropastoral lowland areas, despite total deyr production remaining below average. Emergency (IPC Phase 4) is anticipated in the worst flood-affected riverine areas due to widespread asset and livelihood losses and in several settlements for displaced populations, where assistance has been insufficient to mitigate worse outcomes. In the central and coastal pastoral areas, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) persists due to low livestock holdings and high remaining debt. In Kenya’s pastoral areas, gradual improvement in livestock holdings and production and the above-average goat-to-maize terms-of-trade are supporting area-level Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes. 
    • In Sudan, humanitarian needs continue to escalate during an atypically early start of the lean season in March, driven by the impacts of nearly a year of fighting between Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are widespread across the country, with Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes expanding across Greater Darfur, Greater Kordofan, Khartoum, Red Sea, Kassala, and parts of the southeast. Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) outcomes are expected to emerge as the lean season progresses especially among households in parts of West Darfur, Khartoum, and among the displaced populations in hard-to-reach areas of Greater Darfur. FEWS NET assesses a risk of Famine (IPC Phase 5) in parts of Greater Darfur and Khartoum if actions by armed parties – either through deliberate isolation of households or through escalation of intense conflict that blocks informal cross-border trade flows and cuts off access to food assistance, community support, and remittances – prevent households from migrating to safer areas in search of food and income for a sustained time. 
    • In South Sudan, humanitarian needs are rising faster than anticipated due to deteriorating macroeconomic conditions following the rupture of an oil pipeline in Sudan, accelerating price increases, continued conflict that is disrupting trade, livelihoods, and food assistance delivery, and the ongoing high returnee burden. Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are widespread across the north and north-eastern parts of the country, with households expected to be in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) in Pibor, Duk, Aweil East, and among returnees. In the upcoming lean season (June-September), the prospect of severe flooding and armed conflict, on top of the already deteriorating economic conditions, is contributing to a risk of Famine (IPC Phase 5), with greatest concern in parts of north-central Unity and Upper Nile, if flooding and conflict isolate households from accessing food and income for a prolonged period. 
    • In most of Uganda and Burundi, favorable 2023 crop harvests and stable or below-average staple food prices have supported improved food security outcomes. In bimodal Uganda, the delayed and below-average start of the March to May rains resulted in some delays in planting, although rainfall is forecasted to extend into June. Overall, national first-season crop production is expected to be average, sustaining area-level minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes in bimodal areas. Although in localized areas with delayed rains, below-average production will likely drive Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes for some poor households. In Karamoja and refugee settlements, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to persist through September. In Burundi, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected in the Northern Lowlands, Eastern Lowlands, and Eastern Dry Plateaus livelihood zones, driven by high food prices, below-average cross-border income-earning opportunities and below-average 2024 Season A crop production. The ongoing food assistance for refugees and asylum seekers is expected to sustain Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes.

    Recommended citation: FEWS NET. East Africa Key Message Update March 2024: Conflict, high prices, and below-average harvests trigger early start of lean season, sustaining elevated humanitarian needs, 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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