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Pibor Famine Monitoring: a multisectoral humanitarian response is necessary to prevent Famine Likely (IPC Phase 5)

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  • South Sudan
  • March 30, 2021
Pibor Famine Monitoring: a multisectoral humanitarian response is necessary to prevent Famine Likely (IPC Phase 5)

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Available information suggests Famine Likely (IPC Phase 5) persists in Pibor, while Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes with households in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) prevail in multiple counties, including Tonj North, Tonj East, and Tonj South of Warrap, Aweil South of Northern Bahr el Ghazal, and Akobo of Jonglei (Figure 1). Humanitarian food assistance is the only significant mitigating factor to food insecurity in Pibor, where key informants reported increasingly extreme coping strategies, visible extreme wasting among young children, and hunger-related deaths in February. Since a large proportion of the Pibor population is concurrently in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) and there are extensive gaps in health, WASH, and nutrition services, current levels of food assistance are likely still inadequate to drive sufficient improvement in food security. Without a coordinated scale-up in both food assistance and health, WASH, and nutrition assistance, FEWS NET anticipates Famine Likely (IPC Phase 5) will continue through September.

Nationally, FEWS NET estimates 6 to 8 million people will be in need of food assistance monthly through September. Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are expected to expand to 41 counties during the June to September period, which overlaps with the peak of the lean season. Based on past trends, pockets of Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) could also emerge in additional counties. Food insecurity continues to be driven by multiple, compounding shocks, including conflict and insecurity, the macroeconomic crisis, flooding, exorbitantly high staple food prices, and COVID-19 restrictions. Further, there is an increased likelihood of above-average rainfall in mid-to-late 2021, which is anticipated to result in a third consecutive year of significant flood events. The impacts of these shocks, including but not limited to deficit national cereal production, low purchasing power, livestock losses, few viable income-generating activities, and humanitarian access challenges, will restrict household food availability and access. Assistance needs among the local population exceed currently planned levels of food and non-food assistance across most of South Sudan, and resources for humanitarian assistance are stretched too thin to prevent severe to extreme outcomes.

Update on Pibor: Many households are likely still facing extreme food consumption gaps as the January to April pastoral lean season progresses. In February, key informants in Pibor Town, Lekuangole, and Gumuruk reported that food sources were difficult to find and income-generating activities were scarce, leading households to turn to increasingly extreme coping strategies. Further, extreme wasting was reportedly visible among young children and there were anecdotal reports of hunger-related deaths. Field information suggests conditions have yet to improve. Communities located in remote areas of Pibor, including Lokaromach and Gei of Lekuangole, Manyabol and Nanaam of Gumuruk, and Dhuren and Labrab of Verteth, are among those most likely to have extreme food consumption gaps and limited to no access to food assistance.

Although levels of conflict and insecurity in Pibor are lower in 2021 than in 2020, there are few options for recovery. Currently, key informants report fish, game, and wild fruit availability are seasonally at their lowest points, apart from some communities in Verteth with proximity to Buma National Park. Additionally, there is limited to no access to livestock products such as milk, due to significant livestock losses, migration of remaining livestock to distant dry season grazing areas near the Ethiopian border, and poor livestock health amid high waterborne disease incidence. Key informants do report some market recovery in Gumuruk, Pibor, and Lekuangole payams compared to February due to seasonally improved road access and relative security along the Juba-Pibor and Bor-Pibor roads. This improvement is evident in the increase of the bull-to-maize terms of trade from 50 kg in February to 77 kg of maize flour in March. However, food remains generally inaccessible to local populations who have lost all of their livestock to conflict, floods, or disease and have little to no alternative income sources.

A sustained scale-up in food and non-food assistance is critical to ending Famine Likely (IPC Phase 5) in Pibor. However, monthly food assistance distributions reports from November 2020 to February 2021 show that food assistance has only reached an estimated 8 to 29 percent of the Pibor population each month, whereas up to 90 percent of the population requires food assistance (Figure 2). An interim distribution update dated March 23rd suggests WFP and partners reached 20 percent of the population (44,650 people) with double 21-day rations in March. Resilience interventions include distribution of vegetable seeds, tools, fishing gear, and unconditional cash transfers are ongoing, but data on the population reached is not available to FEWS NET. Given the size of food consumption gaps and indications of livelihoods collapse among a significant proportion of the population, coupled with available evidence on acute malnutrition and hunger-related deaths, more significant levels of food assistance must be combined with urgent health, WASH, and nutrition services to save lives.

Update on areas with populations in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5):

  • In Greater Tonj of Warrap, many households – especially displaced households – are experiencing large to severe food consumption gaps indicative of Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes with pockets of households in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5). In Tonj East and Tonj North, retaliatory attacks and related insecurity over grazing resources and cattle raids continue to interfere with livelihood activities and disrupt trade flows, market functioning and access, and food assistance delivery despite the recent establishment of state and local governments. In Tonj North, hotspots include Rualbet, Panriom, Marial-lou, Akop, and Kirik payams, where over 30 lives and over 450 livestock were lost in March. In Tonj East, events in March included an attack by armed youth on a humanitarian convoy in Ananatak payam and clashes in Paliang payam. Consequently, only 5 percent of households in Tonj East and 17 percent of households in Tonj North received humanitarian food assistance in February. Preliminary distribution reports suggest food assistance is even lower in March. In contrast, humanitarian access to Tonj South has improved, permitting deliveries to 57 percent of the population in February. Considering improved access and IPC estimates that 60 percent of the population is in need, food assistance is likely mitigating the magnitude of the population in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) in Tonj South.
  • In Aweil South of Northern Bahr el Ghazal, Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes with households in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) remain most likely. In March, many households have already depleted their own-produced food stocks. Meanwhile, the availability of fish and other wild foods is declining as water sources dry up and household competition for these food sources rises. The only active fishing areas reported in March are in Panthou and Wathmuok. Demand for casual labor and petty trade remains limited or unavailable during the dry season, while livestock production is marked by low ownership, migration to distant dry season grazing areas, and declining livestock health and value. Staple food prices remain high and, without adequate income, most households face large food consumption gaps. In February, only 21 percent of the population received food assistance, which is far below the estimated 75 percent of the population that needs assistance. In March, interim updates suggest only 13 percent of the population has received food assistance.
  • In Akobo of Jonglei, Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes remain most likely and it is possible some households with few productive assets, difficult access to markets, and low to no access to food assistance may currently be in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5). However, given that 33 percent of the population received food assistance in February, humanitarian access is stable, and distributions for March are ongoing, it is possible that food assistance may be mitigating the severity of food consumption gaps. Key informants confirmed in March that many households are heavily relying on food aid, especially in Akobo West, in addition to gathering wild game and fish. In Akobo West and Akobo East markets, the price of a malwa (3.5 kg) of staple cereals dropped by 25 percent in early March due to the availability of food aid and imports from Ethiopia. Nevertheless, the trade route linking Akobo East to Walgak and Boung is still cut off by residual floodwaters, preventing the flow of goods between Akobo East and Akobo West. Further, milk availability is seasonally at its lowest point. Field information indicates livestock body conditions are generally fair following the vaccination and treatment of 80,000 heads of livestock by Save the Children in Akobo East from December 2020 to February 2021, coupled with the availability of water and pasture in areas near riversides.

Other updates:  

  • SMART surveys to collect food security, nutrition, and mortality data are underway to determine the severity of food insecurity, acute malnutrition, and the mortality rate in the post-harvest period. IMC and ACF are conducting household surveys in Pibor (inclusive of western and eastern payams), Akobo West, and Greater Tonj.  In these areas, data collection will likely be completed in early to mid-April. Plans for data collection are unconfirmed in Aweil South and Akobo East.
  • Based on rapid assessments conducted by WFP in early 2021 in Juba as well as Mangalla and Mangateen displacement sites, urban and displaced households continue to have moderate to large food consumption gaps and rely on negative coping strategies due to inadequate income sources. For example, nearly 80 percent of displaced households in Mangalla reported a moderate Household Hunger Score. The conclusions of the October 2020 FSNMS survey and recent rapid assessments led the humanitarian community to an urgent funding appeal for USD 1.7 billion to reach 6.6 million people with life-saving assistance and protection support under the 2021 South Sudan Humanitarian Response Plan.
  • In addition to Warrap, conflict and insecurity are driving an increase in the severity of food insecurity in Lakes and Upper Nile. Current levels of conflict in parts of Eastern and Western Equatoria are consistent with the status quo, but the situation requires close monitoring. Attacks and cattle-raids remain widespread, with significant disruptions to livelihood activities, market and trade functioning, and humanitarian food assistance delivery. In Upper Nile, tensions remain high in Akoka, Uror, Ulang and Nassir linked to ethnic and political issues, the formation of the new rebel group Upper Nile People’s Liberation Front/Army (UNPLF/A), and the planned transition of the state capital from Makal to Wau Shilluk of Malakal. In Lakes, inter-and intra-communal attacks in Cueibet and Rumbek North and banditry along the Juba-Rumbek–Wau trade route resulted in the loss of life, significant displacement, and a temporary withdrawal of humanitarian actors from Cueibet. Meanwhile, large-scale cattle raids in Eastern Equatoria and armed clashes between hold-out opposition groups and the National Salvation Front in Mugwo of Yei and Mvolo of Western Equatoria have deprived affected households of food and income sourced from livestock production, markets, and wild food gathering.
  • Staple food prices remain exorbitantly high in most reference markets and are generally higher than last year and the five-year average. In February, the retail price of a malwa (3.5 kg) of white sorghum ranged from 55 to 190 percent above the same period of 2020 and 130-345 percent above the five-year average based on price data collected in Rumbek Centre, Aweil Centre, Wau, and Juba. Higher staple food prices continue to limit household food access since income sources are stagnant or declining, reducing household purchasing power. In February, a labor-dependent household could only purchase 6 kg of sorghum with a day’s wage in Juba and 12-14 kg in Wau and Aweil. This represents a 35-45 percent reduction in the terms of trade in Juba and Wau compared to February 2020.
  • A second wave of COVID-19 cases in February led the South Sudan government to reinstate many movement restrictions and enact punitive fees for those who violate restrictions for a 30-day period starting on March 3rd. Most significantly, restaurant and tea stalls face heightened enforcement of social distancing measures, most service industry venues (e.g., bars) and sporting and religious events are suspended, and bus and taxi services are limited to half capacity. Poor, urban households will be most affected by reductions in income, downward pressure on daily wages, and rising transportation costs, which will in turn reduce their ability to purchase food. The impacts will likely be most acute in Juba, where the labor-to-sorghum terms of trade are already quite low. Since a significant proportion of poor urban households are already in Crisis (IPC Phase 3), it is likely that the severity of food consumption gaps will increase in the short term while coping capacity will decline in the short-to-medium term.
  • The sluggish establishment of the March to May rainfall season in bimodal southern and western livelihood zones raises concern for first-season crop production prospects in localized areas. In mid-March, satellite-derived estimates indicated some areas along the DRC border and in Pochalla county had received only 70 to 85 percent of normal rainfall. Ensemble forecasts predict above-average rainfall in southern South Sudan in April, which is anticipated to alleviate deficits. Key informants report farmers are preparing land in a few areas, such as Magwi of Eastern Equatoria and most of Western Equatoria, and planting maize and vegetables in Yambio of Western Equatoria and Obbo of Eastern Equatoria.
  • Residual floodwaters continue to impede food assistance delivery, population movement, and trade flows in parts of Unity (Panyijiar, Leer, Mayendit), Warrap (Twic), and Jonglei (Fangak, Twic East, Akobo West). However, key informants report floodwaters have notably receded in Bor South, Duk, and Ayod of Jonglei. Although fish will likely be available longer than usual in flooded areas through at least April/May, the saturated conditions will render these areas highly vulnerable to significant flood events during the anticipated, above-average main rainfall season. Significant damage to infrastructure, crop and livestock losses, and difficulty prepositioning and delivering food assistance are anticipated. Flood-affected counties are likely to be subject to similar or worse crop production prospects in 2021 compared to 2020. Other flood-prone and low-lying areas in Greater Upper Nile and Greater Bahr el Ghazal are also of concern.
Figures Map of South Sudan showing Projected food security outcomes, February to May 2021

Figure 1

Figure 1

Source: FEWS NET

Chart showing Estimated proportion of the Pibor population that needs food assistance compared to the monthly target and actu

Figure 2

Figure 2

Source: WFP distribution data; IPC estimates

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