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The scale and severity of acute food insecurity in South Sudan through January 2021 is expected to remain among the highest recorded since 2014. Urgent, sustained humanitarian food assistance beyond currently planned levels is required to save lives and protect livelihoods in the ongoing lean season and post-harvest periods. Unprecedented levels of inter-communal conflict, the macroeconomic crisis, recurrent flooding, and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and preventive measures are leading to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and worse outcomes.
In August and September, Emergency (IPC Phase 4) is likely in 25 conflict- and flood-affected counties where it is likely that high proportions of the population either have large food consumption gaps or are engaging in severe coping strategies in an attempt to mitigate food consumption gaps. Areas of greatest concern that need an urgent scale-up in food assistance include Pibor, Bor South, and Twic East of Jonglei; most counties in Warrap; Rumbek East and Rumbek Centre of Lakes; and Maiwut, Renk, Manyo, Panyikang, and Malakal of Upper Nile. Although planned and funded humanitarian food assistance will most likely prevent Emergency (IPC Phase 4) in many areas through September, many households will continue to face food consumption gaps indicative of Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!). Outcomes could deteriorate quickly if the delivery of humanitarian food assistance is further disrupted by floods or insecurity.
From October to January, food security is expected to only marginally improve among households with access to the main and second-season harvests. With food assistance currently planned to scale down during this period, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes will likely remain widespread as most rural households and many poor urban households will be unable to meet their minimum food needs. In conflict- and flood-affected areas where crop and livestock losses are highest and market access is low, Emergency (IPC Phase 4) or Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes will most likely persist. These include counties in Jonglei, Upper Nile, Warrap, Unity, and Lakes.
In areas where the level of conflict or flooding is severe enough to cut off or displace some households such that they are unable to access typical food sources or food assistance, Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) is likely, including in the post-harvest period. At-risk households are most likely to include those who do not own livestock, have limited to no access to arable land for crop cultivation, and have difficult access to functioning markets. While not the most likely scenario, Famine (IPC Phase 5) remains possible in a worst-case scenario in which at least 20 percent of the population in a given area is isolated from accessing food sources or food assistance for a prolonged time.
Conflict and displacement: Levels of inter-communal violence have reached unprecedented levels in 2020. FEWS NET’s analysis of ACLED’s data on inter-communal conflict events shows the number of events through July 31, 2020, already exceeds annual totals in 2013-2016 and 2018-2019 and is on track to meet or exceed the annual total recorded in 2017. Additionally, the UN has announced increasing concern for clashes between the South Sudan People's Defense Forces (SSPDF), armed civilians, and hold-out opposition groups in Warrap, Unity, and Central Equatoria, though levels of political conflict in 2020 remain historically low. The violence occurs amid efforts to move implementation of the peace deal forward and in the context of the macroeconomic crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, and flooding. In June, the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity (R-TGoNU) appointed nine out of ten state governors in a step toward establishing state-level authority and security. The president has also launched disarmament campaigns and established two high-level committees to investigate the root causes of the violence in Jonglei and Warrap and find a solution for durable peace through consultations with local elders and community peace conferences. However, several key benchmarks for peace deal implementation are delayed, including the establishment of the transitional national legislative assembly, appointment of the governor of Upper Nile, and strengthening of state and county administrations.
The epicenters of inter-communal conflict are Jonglei, where the president declared a three-month state of emergency effective August 12th, and the Warrap-Lakes border region. Violence continues to directly affect food security by disrupting main season cultivation, humanitarian food assistance delivery, market access, and trade flows. In the border region of Warrap and Lakes, inter-communal conflict persists between armed youths in Tonj North and Cueibet, while a disarmament exercise in Tonj East devolved into a deadly confrontation between the SSPDF and civilians in Romich village in August. In Jonglei, conflict between youth from the Lou Nuer, Dinka, and Murle communities is concentrated in Pibor, Uror, Duk, Twic East, and Bor South (Figure 1). Based on assessments conducted by South Sudan’s Relief and Rehabilitation Commission, violence affected about 400,000 residents in these five counties as well as Akobo and Pochalla since April. Of highest concern is Greater Pibor, where over 60,000 people are displaced to distant areas in the bush, the UNMISS compound, or neighboring Lopa/Lafon county of Eastern Equatoria. In Lopa/Lafon, key informants report the displaced population urgently needs food assistance but currently has little to no access to assistance. In Pibor and other counties of Jonglei, a significant increase in looting of prepositioned food assistance is of high concern. Between April and June, 635 metric tons of food and nutrition items were stolen in Gumuruk, Verteth, Pieri, and Nyadin in Jonglei and Greater Pibor. A total of 20 looting incidents were recorded nationally in the second quarter (Q2) of 2020, compared to three in Q2 2019.
Other conflict-affected areas of concern include Central Equatoria and Pariang and Mayom counties of Unity, where clashes between government forces, armed civilians, and hold-out opposition groups have led to the loss of lives and significantly disrupted main season planting, first-season harvests, access to markets, and trade flows. Violence is also impeding the delivery of food assistance, based on an increase in looting in Juba county and along major supply routes in Eastern Equatoria (OCHA, 2020). In Central Equatoria, localized political conflict in Morobo, Kajo-Keji, Yei, and Liria and Lobonok of Juba county displaced at least 18,000 people from January to July.
Rainfall performance and floods: In general, the performance of the June to September main rainfall season is supporting favorable cropping conditions. However, episodes of high-intensity rainfall in July and August led to significant flooding in riverine and low-lying areas in parts of Jonglei, Upper Nile, Unity, and Western Equatoria, including areas that were severely affected by the 2019 floods. CHIRPS preliminary rainfall data show cumulative rainfall from June 1 to August 20, 2020, is similar to the same period of 2019 in Jonglei and southern Unity and below the same period of 2019 in Upper Nile; however, the 2019 floods did not reach catastrophic levels until late September and October 2019. In eastern and central South Sudan, cumulative rainfall is 5-30 percent above the long-term average with excesses of up to 200 mm (Figure 2). The two-week GEFS forecast suggests rainfall intensity will ease, but close monitoring remains critical. In western and northeastern South Sudan, cumulative rainfall is 5-30 percent below average with deficits of 25-100 mm; however, rainfall amounts and distribution are adequate for crop requirements in these areas, according to satellite-derived estimates.
Although seasonal floods are common, local informants and humanitarian sources confirm flooding is severe in at least ten counties to date in 2020. In Jonglei, the floods are worsening an already dire humanitarian situation. In Bor South, Twic East, Duk, Ayod, and Pochalla, flooding has displaced at least 150,000 people to higher ground since June and submerged or destroyed crops; in some cases, households were also temporarily cut off from accessing food assistance. Additionally, the floods have cut off trade routes and submerged markets, while leading to an increase in cases of malaria, pneumonia, and diarrhea. In Renk county of Upper Nile, flooding in August affected over 30,000 people, based on reports from World Vision International and local authorities. A break in the Blue Nile Dam flooded the main supply road to Maban, which has prevented food assistance from being offloaded from river barges and transported by road to Maban and onward to other counties. In Leer of Unity, flooding in August displaced an estimated 10,000 households, submerged crops, and disrupted market functioning and trade flows. As reported earlier in June, flooding in Panyijiar of Unity also displaced 15,000 households and destroyed crops. In Ibba and Mvolo counties of Western Equatoria, flooding in August damaged first-season harvests and displaced thousands of people. In parts of Juba county in Central Equatoria, rising river water levels destroyed vegetable and maize crops near the Nile basin.
COVID-19: The most significant impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated preventive measures on food security continue to be related to lower economic growth, slower trade flows, and constrained humanitarian operations, despite the easing of movement restrictions in May. At the household level, the impact is most significant for urban households, who are earning below normal daily income and primarily purchase their food. In terms of the direct health impacts, total confirmed cases have risen by 25 percent since June 30th, reaching 2,510 cases and 47 fatalities on August 26th. Around 75 percent of cases are within Juba. Although daily case incidence peaked in early June and is currently low – the 7-day rolling average is 2.4 – the true spread of the virus is likely higher due to low per capita testing and gaps in geographic coverage. According to South Sudan’s Public Health Emergency Operations Center, confirmed cases spiked in late July/early August after testing expanded to three centers, and the positive testing rate is 7 percent as of August 26th. In response, the Ministry of Health and the WHO are planning to conduct studies to better understand the trend of community transmission and the magnitude of cases, while strengthening ongoing awareness campaigns, surveillance and contact tracing, testing efforts, and international support from medical experts.
Spontaneous refugee returns: Despite official border closures linked to COVID-19, South Sudanese refugees continue to return through unofficial border crossing points, which are largely porous. According to UNHCR reports, more than 11,383 South Sudanese refugees returned from neighboring countries in June, bringing the total number of returnees since the signing of the peace deal in September 2018 to 180,347 refugees. 24,137 refugees have returned since the outbreak of COVID-19 in March. The high number of refugee returnees recorded in June relative to May and April is driven by several factors, including the start of main season cropping in South Sudan; the reduction of food assistance in refugee camps in Uganda and Ethiopia; the economic impacts of COVID-19 on the cost of living; fear of the spread of COVID-19 in Sudan; and an uptick in conflict in parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo and parts of the Central African Republic.
Agricultural production: In bimodal areas, reduced access to inputs, localized floods and desert locust damage, and localized conflict remain the primary threats to crop production in 2020. In Greater Equatoria, the first-season harvest of maize is nearly complete, and field information collected in 11 counties indicates households are consuming own-produced maize. First-season groundnut, bean, and sorghum harvests are also ongoing. In other bimodal areas, including Pochalla of Jonglei, Wulu of Lakes, and Wau and southern Raga of Western Bahr el Ghazal, the maize harvest is currently underway. One area of concern is Ibba of Western Equatoria, where heavy rains and flooding destroyed the maize harvest. In Eastern Equatoria, the threat of desert locust has declined due to swarm out-migration and control operations. After swarms damaged crops in Magwi and Torit earlier in the season, desert locusts arrived in Kapoeta South and Kapoeta North in early August. FAO and County Agriculture department officials carried out control operations in infested areas and, according to key informants, damage to crops and grassland is negligible. FAO reported a second, transitory swarm in Kapoeta in late August.
In unimodal areas, reduced access to inputs, conflict, and significant flooding also threaten crop production in 2020. In general, satellite-derived data affirm rainfall and soil moisture are adequate to support healthy crop development in most areas. In mid-August, main season cereal crops, including sorghum, are in their early to late vegetative stages according to field reports. However, active inter-communal conflict and the fear of conflict in Jonglei and the border region of Warrap and Lakes is preventing or limiting households’ ability to cultivate crops in their fields, which raises the likelihood that food security outcomes will remain atypically severe during the post-harvest period. Furthermore, the impact of recent floods on crop production in flood-affected areas of Jonglei, Upper Nile, and Unity are likely significant among affected households. The scale of crop damage has not yet been officially assessed through Inter-agency Rapid Needs Assessments.
Livestock production: In general, livestock are in good body condition and access to milk is seasonally high in most pastoral and agropastoral areas, driven by the seasonal increase in pasture and water availability. However, there are reports of atypical migration patterns and livestock deaths due to high water- and vector-borne disease incidence and pasture loss in flood-affected areas of Jonglei and Unity. Based on available field reports, households from Twic East and Bor South have migrated their livestock to Terekeka of Central Equatoria and Yirol East of Lakes in order to protect their livestock from the risks of drowning, inter-communal conflict, and cattle raids. Since these livestock are distant from the homestead or displacement sites, access to milk is below normal for women, children, and the elderly in flood- and conflict-affected areas.
Staple food prices: Staple food prices continue to rise across the country, driven by high import and transportation costs linked to low foreign currency reserves, the continued depreciation of the SSP, COVID-19 preventive measures, and the disruption of supply flows due to heavy rainfall, floods, and inter-communal conflict. The exchange rate reached a record high in mid-August, trading at 400 SSP per USD on the parallel market as South Sudan’s Central Bank runs out of foreign cash reserves. Sorghum prices rose significantly in most reference markets in July, despite an increase in cross-border trade volumes of sorghum in the second quarter of 2020 from Sudan and Uganda. Trade volumes at major border entry points were 18-45 percent higher than the second quarter of 2019 and 22-94 percent above the five-year average. However, the indirect effects of COVID-19 on supply and demand reduced maize trade flows from Uganda by 60-67 percent during the same period.
Based on available market price data in CLiMIS, the retail price of a malwa (3.5 kg) of white sorghum in July ranged from 51 to 242 percent above the five-year average and up to 106 percent above July 2019 in key reference markets. Prices in July were also 7-61 percent higher than June in most reference markets, including Rumbek, Torit, Bor South, Wau, and Aweil. The sharpest increase in the retail price of sorghum occurred in Aweil, where prices rose by 50 percent from June to July and have tripled since March (Figure 4). In Aweil, this trend is attributed to atypically low market supply resulting from poor 2019 sorghum production and a delay in the onset of main season rainfall in 2020, which has delayed the seasonal arrival of early-maturing sorghum on the market. In contrast, the retail price of sorghum declined by six percent in Juba, which is attributed to a reduction in market taxes imposed by Juba City Council; a local increase in market supply due to its proximity to Ugandan source markets and increasing trade volumes; and recent food assistance distributions. Due to high and rising food prices, household purchasing power and access to food continue to decline among urban and pastoral households who depend on purchasing their food and among agropastoral households who have yet to harvest their crops.
Humanitarian Food Assistance: Given persistently low food and income sources among more than half of the national population, food assistance is critical to preventing more extreme food security outcomes. However, insecurity, flooding, and COVID-19 are periodically preventing deliveries by road and river and constraining overall humanitarian operational capacity, logistics, and access. For example, WFP was forced to suspend operations from mid-June to early-August in Greater Pibor due to the local conflict. In areas where air delivery is required due to insecurity or floods, WFP estimates the cost of delivery is seven times higher than road delivery.
Although food distribution amounts per household have been scaled up since March, the response remains far below the level of need, especially in Jonglei. According to distribution reports from April to June, WFP and its partners provided one-to-three month rations to 1.9 million people in June and an average of 1.76 million people over the three-month period via general food distribution and food for assets activities. In July, WFP reached .95 million in the first month of a second round of distribution, which targets 3.8 million people with one-to-three month rations. On the state level, the response reached 20-50 percent of the population in Northern and Western Bahr el Ghazal, Upper Nile, Unity, and Warrap, typically in two-month distribution cycles (Figure 5). Levels of assistance are much lower in Jonglei, Lakes, and Greater Equatoria, reaching only 1 to 21 percent of the population monthly. However, it should be noted that the scale of food assistance in some areas of high concern in Jonglei and Lakes has been significant, including in Akobo, Ayod, Duk, Nyirol, Uror, and Rumbek North.
In addition to the planned lean season response, WFP has delivered food and nutrition assistance specifically targeting conflict- and flood-affected people. As of mid-August, 58,288 people received this assistance in Jonglei (including Pibor). In Pibor Town alone, WFP was able to deliver assistance to 32,465 people after limited operations resumed in early August. In Maar of Twic East and Bor Town, distributions are ongoing for some 9,375 people and 16,448 people, respectively.
Current food security outcomes: High levels of inter-communal conflict and poor macro-economic conditions, coupled with severe flooding and COVID-19, continue to drive Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and worse outcomes across South Sudan. At the peak of the lean season in August, Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are likely in 25 conflict- and flood-affected counties in Jonglei, Warrap, Upper Nile, Unity, and Lakes, where a high proportion of the population are likely experiencing either large food consumption gaps or engaging in severe coping strategies in an attempt to mitigate food consumption gaps. In parts of Jonglei and Upper Nile, some at-risk households – those who have very few productive assets and very high dependence on humanitarian assistance, social support, and wild foods – that are temporarily cut off from key food and income sources because of conflict or severe flooding are likely facing Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5). Emergency (IPC Phase 4) is also likely in parts of Eastern and Central Equatoria, where significant first-season crop losses have occurred and access to food is poor.
Based on planned food assistance from July to September, it is likely that the recent scale-up of food assistance is preventing Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes in many areas; however, high proportions of the population still have food deficits or are using negative coping strategies, leading to widespread Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes in Jonglei and Greater Bahr el Ghazal. Areas of greatest concern – defined as areas in which very high proportions of the population are likely still in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) and urgently need food assistance – include: Pibor, Bor South, and Twic East of Jonglei; most counties in Warrap; Rumbek East and Rumbek Centre of Lakes; and Maiwut, Renk, Manyo, Panyikang, and Malakal of Upper Nile.
In most bimodal areas of Greater Equatoria, the availability of the first-season harvests is likely driving marginal improvement to Crisis (IPC Phase 3). However, based on the assumption that the harvests are below the pre-conflict average and similar to the recent five-year average, most households still have food deficits. Meanwhile, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are likely in parts of Western Equatoria where first-season crop production and market and trade functioning are relatively better.
Revisions to the assumptions used to develop FEWS NET’s most likely scenario for the South Sudan Food Security Outlook for June 2020 to January 2021 include:
- Based on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths by the Ministry of Health, daily case incidence has declined since June and the case fatality ratio has remained stable. However, given that per capita testing remains very low and movement restrictions are limited, the total number of COVID-19 cases is expected to continue to rise through January.
- Since the R-TGoNU lifted most COVID-19 movement restrictions in May and plans to ease restrictions on social gathering in August, the severity of movement restrictions is assumed to remain minimal through January. Key preventive measures that are assumed to remain in place through at least January include a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine and a COVID-19 free certificate for incoming international travelers. The measures may continue to affect humanitarian movements.
- Based on a nearly 150 percent increase in spontaneous refugee returns in June 2020 compared to May, the monthly flow of returnees is anticipated to be higher than previously projected despite closed land borders. In addition to registered returnees, informal returnees are expected. Refugee returns are most likely to be driven by reduced food assistance in refugee camps in Uganda, the economic and health impacts of COVID-19, and continued violence in DRC and CAR.
- Based on FEWS NET’s integrated price projections through January 2021, retail staple food prices are most likely to rise and remain above the recent five-year average and previous year in most key reference markets. This will continue to be driven by the impacts of local currency depreciation, COVID-19 preventive measures, conflict, and flooding on high import and transportation costs and the impact of structurally deficit cereal production on market supply. The retail price of white sorghum in Wau, Juba, and Aweil is projected to be 30-255 percent higher than last year and 70-375 percent above the five-year average. In Bor South, the retail sorghum price is projected to range from 15 percent below to 25 percent above last year, but 110-200 percent above the five-year average. In terms of seasonal trends, the sorghum price will likely peak in August, decline through the start of the dry harvest in October, and then gradually rise as households consume their stocks and market demand begins to rise from November to January in post-harvest period.
- Based on the NOAA/CPC NMME and GEFS forecasts, cumulative rainfall in August and September is most likely to be above average in southeastern and central South Sudan and generally average elsewhere. Given rising river catchment levels and above-average soil moisture, the risk of flooding remains high in riverine and low-lying, flood-prone areas in Jonglei, southern Unity, and southern Upper Nile. Cumulative June to September rainfall performance is most likely to conclude with moderate deficits in the west and northeast and average to above-average rainfall elsewhere.
- The NOAA/CPC NMME, ECMWF C3S, and ICPAC/GHACOF56 rainfall forecasts differ for the second bimodal rainfall season from August to November. FEWS NET’s assumption is driven by the NMME forecast, which indicates below-average rainfall is most likely. However, total rainfall and soil moisture are anticipated to be adequate for normal crop development.
- Based on WFP’s August to December 2020 operational plan, double distributions of food assistance will continue in order to limit the risk of COVID-19. In August and September, WFP plans to reach an average of 2.65 million people monthly (22 percent of the country population) with an average 48 percent of their monthly kilocalorie needs under the lean season plan. From October to December, WFP plans to reach an average of 977,000 people monthly (8 percent of the country population) with an average 61 percent of their monthly kilocalorie needs under the post-harvest plan. Poor road conditions due to heavy rain and floods, insecurity, and COVID-19 travel requirements are anticipated to slow down operational capacity to procure or distribute assistance through December, which may result in lower distributions.
Sustained, high levels of humanitarian food assistance beyond currently planned levels are required to save lives and protect livelihoods in South Sudan. The scale and severity of acute food insecurity will remain high through January 2021, including during the post-harvest period. The population in need of humanitarian food assistance will most likely remain among the highest levels in recent years, driven by the escalation of inter-communal conflict, recurrent flooding, persistently poor macro-economic conditions, and the economic impacts of COVID-19. With 2020 crop production projected to be similar to or lower than 2019, the ongoing and upcoming harvests will only provide marginal relief for most households. Furthermore, given the contracting economy, high and rising staple food prices compared to previous years, and few income sources, the vast majority of households will struggle to earn enough income to purchase their minimum food needs. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes are most likely to remain widespread. In areas where the level of conflict or flooding is severe enough to cut off or displace at-risk households such that they are temporarily unable to access key food and income sources or food assistance, Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) is likely. At-risk households are most likely to include residential or displaced households who do not own livestock, have limited or no access to arable land, and have high dependence on food assistance.
From October to January, food insecurity is expected to remain severe in 16 counties in Jonglei, Upper Nile, Warrap, Unity, and Lakes, where high proportions of the population will continue to face large food consumption gaps or utilize coping strategies indicative of Emergency (IPC Phase 4). Levels of planned food assistance are insufficient to prevent severe outcomes. Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) is expected in an additional nine counties, where planned and funded food assistance is anticipated to mitigate worse outcomes; however, outcomes could quickly deteriorate if delivery of planned assistance is disrupted. Across these 25 counties, households are directly affected by high levels of inter-communal conflict, localized political conflict, and significant conflict-or flood-induced crop and livestock losses. In many of these areas, market access is notably lower compared to the rest of the country. Areas of highest concern include Pibor, Twic East, Duk, Ayod, and Akobo of Jonglei; Tonj East and Tonj South of Warrap; Maiwut, Nasir, Longochuk, and Ulang of Upper Nile; and Awerial of Lakes.
Although food security is expected to marginally improve with the availability of the main and second-season harvests in areas mapped as Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or Stressed (IPC Phase 2), these outcomes remain indicative of acute food insecurity. Most rural households and many poor urban households will continue to have food consumption gaps or engage in negative livelihoods coping strategies that deplete their essential livelihoods assets or increase their level of debt. A scale-up in humanitarian food assistance and livelihoods support in these areas is also of critical importance to ensure households have enough to eat and can rebuild their livelihoods after years of protracted conflict.
Famine (IPC Phase 5) remains possible in South Sudan in a worst-case scenario in which at least 20 percent of the population in a given area is isolated and prevented from accessing food sources and food assistance, for a prolonged time, resulting in an extreme lack of food accompanied by extreme acute malnutrition and excess mortality due to hunger. Although temporary disruptions to household movement and humanitarian access remain of very high concern, patterns of conflict in 2020 have not isolated large-scale populations from accessing natural food sources, markets, or food assistance for an extended time. Based on past and current trends, the level of risk is assessed to be relatively lower compared to 2014-2019.
Source: data from Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project (ACLED)
Source: FEWS NET
Source: price data from CLiMIS; projection by FEWS NET
Source: data provided by WFP
This Food Security Outlook Update provides an 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 over the next six months. Learn more here.