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Impacts of COVID-19 exacerbate food insecurity in a region affected by multiple shocks

  • Key Message Update
  • East Africa
  • May 2020
Impacts of COVID-19 exacerbate food insecurity in a region affected by multiple shocks

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • In the nine countries that FEWS NET covers in the East Africa region, inclusive of Yemen, FEWS NET estimates that the peak number of people facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes in 2020 will be 25-30 percent higher than the peak population estimate prior to the onset of COVID-19. The economic and health impacts of COVID-19 are exacerbating poor macroeconomic conditions and contributing to upward pressure on staple food prices, while the concurrent floods, desert locust, and protracted conflict are negatively affecting household food and income sources. Movement restrictions to limit the spread of COVID-19 are simultaneously restricting access to income sources, especially among poor urban and displaced households, who are highly dependent on daily labor income in the informal sector to purchase food. As the number of cases rises, COVID-19 is also likely to affect the food security of at-risk households who may lose income or switch expenditures to health care costs if infected.

    • In April and May, flooding and desert locusts adversely affected seasonal crop and livestock production in several areas dependent on the March to May rains. The floods also caused loss of household assets, disrupted livelihoods activities, and constrained household access to markets or food assistance. According to OCHA and government sources, the floods have affected more than 1.8 million people, including at least 845,000 people that have been displaced in Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Rwanda, and Uganda as of late May. Several thousands of acres of crops have been destroyed and livestock lost, while water- and vector-borne disease incidence is rising in flood-prone and riverine areas. While pasture and crop damage from the desert locust infestation has been limited by on-going control measures and the heavy rains, current and projected climatic and vegetation conditions remain conducive for breeding and development in Ethiopia, Somalia, and central and northwestern Kenya, while swarms are likely to migrate through northern and eastern South Sudan to Sudan.

    • Household access to food is also constrained by rising food prices, particularly in Sudan, South Sudan, and Ethiopia. Staple food prices were 5-25 percent above the five-year average in urban and some rural areas of Kenya in April, while rice and wheat flour prices rose by as much as 40 percent in some northeastern and central markets in Somalia in May. In Sudan and South Sudan, the price of sorghum and millet in key reference markets was 400-470 percent and 100-400 percent, respectively, above the five-year average in April. Similarly, maize and sorghum prices in Ethiopia were 50-105 percent above the five-year average in April. Poor households are expected to face increasing difficulty purchasing their minimum food needs prior to the July/August harvests in bimodal areas and prior to the September/October harvests in Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Sudan.

    • Food insecurity remains pervasive among large populations of internally displaced persons and refugees in East Africa. Conflict and floods have internally displaced an estimated 11.6 people in Burundi, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, and Yemen and about 4.48 million people from these countries are refugees living in settlements in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, Rwanda, Uganda, and Tanzania, based on UNHCR data. In April, ration cuts were implemented in Yemen and Uganda, respectively, including a 50 percent reduction for local and displaced populations in northern Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen due to the restrictive operating environment and a 30 percent reduction for refugees in Uganda due to insufficient funding. As these populations have limited capacities to access food and income sources and are primarily dependent on humanitarian assistance, the reductions in food assistance are likely to lead to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes.

    • Overall, more than 40 million people in East Africa and Yemen are likely facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes. Further, a risk of Famine (IPC Phase 5) persists in South Sudan and Yemen. The number of people and severity of food insecurity is likely to increase during the June to September period, which coincides with the unimodal lean season, due to multiple, concurrent shocks and an atypical increase in poor, urban population that is experiencing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes due to the economic impacts of COVID-19. A scale up in emergency humanitarian food assistance is needed to prevent the occurrence of food consumption gaps and/or depletion of livelihood assets among affected populations.

    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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