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Extreme levels of food insecurity expected across South Sudan in 2017

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • South Sudan
  • December 2016
Extreme levels of food insecurity expected across South Sudan in 2017

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  • Key Messages
  • Current Situation
  • Updated Assumptions
  • Projected Outlook Through May 2017
  • Key Messages
    • Extreme levels of food insecurity are expected across South Sudan through at least the first half of 2017. Food availability is likely to be lower than normal due to below-average production and volatile trade, and very high prices will further limit food access. Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes already exist in several areas. In the absence of humanitarian assistance, some households in Northern Bahr el Ghazal and Unity could exhaust their capacity to cope and be in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5). Continued emergency humanitarian assistance, and improved access, is needed urgently to save lives.

    • Despite the ongoing harvest, levels of acute malnutrition remain at Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) thresholds in many counties. Given the likely early depletion of household stocks and continued constraints to normal livelihood activities, high levels of acute malnutrition are expected to persist throughout the outlook period. 

    Current Situation

    As of December 2016, the number of displaced persons surpassed 3.1 million, with 1.2 million refugees in neighboring countries and 1.9 million internally displaced persons (IDPs). In Unity, where over 50 percent of the population is already internally displaced, ongoing conflict has caused new displacements in Mayendit, Rubkona, and Leer in December. Key informants report that food insecurity is particularly severe among IDPs in Leer, the majority of whom are displaced to nearby swamps and lack access to food aid or basic health services. Most are surviving on wild foods and fish, and some have recently moved to Panyijiar and Fangak.  

    Although Unity hosts the largest number of IDPs, internal displacement has increased most rapidly in Greater Equatoria, where the number of IDPs has increased 250 percent since July 2016. Many displaced households lack access to their farms and are unable to harvest second season crops. In Budi of Eastern Equatoria, an assessment by REACH reported that clashes in Chukudum in October resulted in new displacements and theft of household assets and food stocks. Insecurity throughout Eastern Equatoria is forcing many to flee to Kenya, where the rate of refugee arrivals increased from about 300 people per week in September to over 1,000 people per week in November. 

    Typically, September to January is a relatively food secure period in South Sudan, as the harvest is ongoing. This year, the harvest is expected to be below average in most areas, primarily due to conflict-related disruptions. Recent nutrition results of surveys conducted between September and November 2016 show GAM prevalences at Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or Emergency (IPC Phase 4) thresholds in all regions of the country (Figure 1), despite the ongoing harvest. In Northern Bahr el Ghazal, results based on WHO classification show a ‘Serious’ level of acute malnutrition in Aweil Center, with a GAM prevalence of 14.4 percent (95% C.I.: 11.2-18.2) and a ‘Critical’ level in Aweil West with a GAM prevalence of 17.1 percent (95% C.I.: 11.2-18.2). These results indicate a worsening nutrition situation, especially in Aweil West where typical levels of acute malnutrition during the October-December period are ‘Serious’ (GAM prevalence 10-15 percent). In Unity, although no recent SMART surveys have been conducted in Koch, Mayendit, Leer, or Guit, neighboring Abiemnhom and Rubkona both recorded a GAM prevalence of 29.2 percent in May 2016, the start of the lean season. As these counties are somewhat similar in terms of access to food and nutrition services, it is likely similar high levels of acute malnutrition (or worse) existed in southern and central Unity during the lean season, and still persist due to limited harvests. 

    Road conditions are seasonally improving, slightly increasing trade activity. However, trade flows to and within South Sudan still remain volatile due to ongoing insecurity and the shortage of USD, which limits traders ability to import. Seasonal road improvements from Juba to Greater Bahr el Ghazal have increased trade flows through Yirol and Rumbek. Similarly, improved road conditions between Sudan and Western Bahr el Ghazal have increased informal trade from Sudan and prompted some recovery of Wau market. In Upper Nile, the trade route between Renk and Malakal has become seasonally passable for commercial trucks from Sudan, although clashes in Melut, Malakal, Manyo, and Renk continue to restrict full trade recovery. In Central Equatoria, few commodities are being transported to Morobo or Yei, as a result of recent clashes in Kaya of Morobo and Lasu of Yei and general insecurity in the area. Conversely, improved security along the Nimule–Juba road has increased trade from Uganda, and current trade volumes are above average. Overall, macroeconomic conditions remain extremely poor and the SSP further depreciated on the parallel market from 75 SSP/USD in October to 90 SSP/USD in mid-December. 

    Staple food prices have decreased only minimally between October and November, and in some places prices continue to rise atypically during the harvest. The most significant price increase was in Rumbek where the price of sorghum increased 49 percent, mainly due to low trade flows and poor local production. In Aweil, the price of sorghum increased 28 percent over the same time period, also due to erratic trade flows and below-average local harvests. Persistently high food prices are reducing the purchasing capacity of households throughout South Sudan and are significantly impacting poor urban households. In Juba and Wau, where households typically rely heavily on markets as a primary food source, high prices coupled with the near complete loss of casual labor and petty trade are significantly lowering food access. Most poor urban households are unable to meet their basic food needs and face food consumption gaps. An interagency food security assessment conducted in Juba in September found that 46 percent of the households in the capital had a poor food consumption score (FCS). This is a significant deterioration from 11 percent in July 2015.

    Ongoing assistance is keeping Aweil North, Aweil East, and Aweil Center of Northern Bahr el Ghazal, Mayendit of Unity, and Wau of Western Bahr el Ghazal in Crisis (IPC Phase 3!). In Maban and Melut of Upper Nile and Pariang and Rukona of Unity, Stressed (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes exist with ongoing humanitarian assistance. Conversely, insecurity continues to limit the delivery of assistance in many other counties, including in areas of Western Bahr el Ghazal, southern and central Unity, and Greater Equatoria. However, emergency assistance reached many households in need in Lainya and Yei of Central Equatoria in October and November, respectively. 

    Updated Assumptions

    Although most of the assumptions made in FEWS NET’s South Sudan Food Security Outlook for October 2016 to May 2017 remain valid, the following assumption has been added based on the impacts of ongoing conflict:

    • The March to May 2017 first rainy season in Greater Equatoria is expected to start on time and be average in terms of total cumulative rainfall; however, ongoing conflict is likely to interfere with agricultural activities, resulting in below-average 2017 first season production.

    Projected Outlook Through May 2017

    Expected food security outcomes remain as previously described in the South Sudan Food Security Outlook for October 2016 to May 2017. High concern remains that extreme levels of food insecurity are likely through at least the first half of 2017. Most poor and displaced households are expected to have either no harvests or to deplete below-average stocks as early as January. In addition to below normal food availability, insecurity and high prices are lowering food access throughout South Sudan. Prices are likely to remain extremely high and volatile; despite seasonal road improvements that will increase trade flows to some areas, ongoing insecurity will also impede both trade activities and the delivery of humanitarian assistance in many areas. Between February and May 2017, Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are likely in Western Bahr el Ghazal, Northern Bahr el Ghazal, Upper Nile, Jonglei, Central Equatoria, Western Equatoria, and Unity States. All regions of the country are in need of emergency humanitarian assistance. 

    Severe levels of food insecurity are expected to persist in Northern Bahr el Ghazal. Due to the expectation of below-average local harvests and volatile trade through Wau, the supply of food in Northern Bahr el Ghazal is likely to remain significantly lower than normal. With limited household stocks, most poor households are expected to be even more dependent than usual on markets to access food, but extremely high prices are preventing households from accessing sufficient food to meet their basic needs. Without continued humanitarian assistance, some poor households could exhaust their capacity to cope and be in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) during the outlook period. 

    Of highest concern is southern and central Unity, where extreme levels of food insecurity already exist and further deterioration is likely in the absence of improved access for humanitarian assistance. Although assistance is ongoing in Mayendit and Mayom, only minimal amounts of aid are being distributed in Guit, Koch, Leer, or Panyijiar, due to insecurity. In these counties, it is unlikely most displaced households were able to cultivate and, therefore, many will continue to rely primarily on fish and wild foods to survive. New displacements are putting additional stress on available wild food sources. For those who cultivated, it is likely ongoing conflict is disrupting agricultural activities and access to farms. Food availability is expected to remain low and ongoing conflict is likely to continue restricting food access. It is possible some households could face extreme food consumption gaps between February and May 2017 and be in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5). 



    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar For A Typical Year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 2

    Results from SMART surveys conducted during the harvest (September – November) in South Sudan

    Source: Data from South Sudan Nutrition Information Working Group

    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.

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