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Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes persist across South Sudan despite the near conclusion of the 2021 harvest. Preliminary insights from the 27th round of WFP’s Food Security and Nutrition Monitoring System and available partner and key informant information indicate that millions of people remain acutely food insecure due to the compounding impacts of a third consecutive year of extensive floods and protracted conflict, which have driven large-scale crop and livestock losses and low market functioning.
According to the FAO, the 2021 floods resulted in the loss of over 37,600 tons of cereals, including nearly one-fifth of average production in Jonglei and Warrap. Floodwaters have yet to recede in parts of eastern and northern South Sudan, resulting in excess livestock deaths and a three-fold increase in livestock disease alerts. In addition, conflict and generalized insecurity exhibit a rising trend nationally. Together, these shocks continue to impede the movement of people, livestock, market commodities, and humanitarian supplies.
FEWS NET anticipates that the size of the acutely food insecure population and the severity of acute food insecurity will gradually deteriorate through May, which overlaps with the post-harvest period and an early start of the 2022 lean season. Areas of high concern include Jonglei, Greater Pibor Administrative Area (Pibor), northern Lakes, Unity, the greater Tonj area of Warrap, and western and southern Upper Nile, where the population faces large food consumption gaps and atypically high levels of acute malnutrition. Fangak and Canal/Pigi counties in northern Jonglei, Pibor, and Cueibet and Rumbek North counties in northern Lakes are of extreme concern, as the latest available field assessments indicate that some households have extreme food consumption gaps indicative of Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5). A scale-up in food assistance is urgently needed, but requires increased funding to overcome the logistical challenges inherent to reaching remote, insecure, flood- and conflict-affected areas.
FEWS NET assesses that South Sudan will continue to face a risk of Famine (IPC Phase 5) in 2022. While it is not the most likely scenario, past events demonstrate the potential for conflict and floods to isolate households from food and income sources and lead to extreme food insecurity, particularly in areas with large populations in Emergency (IPC Phase 4). Currently, the areas of highest concern for this credible, alternative scenario are Fangak and Canal/Pigi counties of northern Jonglei and Pibor. In Fangak and Canal/Pigi, the risk is linked to crop failure, large-scale livestock losses, very low food access, and disrupted nutrition and health services, which will likely lead to atypical wasting and mortality levels. In Pibor, where livelihoods have yet to recover from the events of 2020, there is renewed concern for a recent uptick in violence and the potential for large-scale conflict in 2022.
Flooding: The food security and health impacts of a third consecutive year of extensive flooding remain severe, marked by prolonged household displacement, drastic reductions in food and income from crop and livestock production, and rising waterborne disease incidence among people (e.g., Acute Water Diarrhea) and livestock. OCHA’s latest assessment of the flood-affected population is 835,000 people, which is similar to the 2020 floods (800,000) but lower than the 2019 floods (908,000). Flood extent remains atypically high across much of the Nile River basin, the Sudd Wetland, and Sobat River basin in central and eastern South Sudan. Satellite-derived data and field reports corroborate that floodwaters have yet to subside in many areas. As a result, many crop fields and grazing areas remain inundated and floodwaters continue to impede the movement of people, market commodities, and humanitarian supplies. As of late December, the worst-flood affected areas include northern Jonglei (Fangak, Ayod, and Canal/Pigi counties), Unity (Leer, Mayendit, Panyijiar, Mayom, and Rubkona counties), and western Upper Nile (e.g., Panyikang, Fashoda).
Fangak and Canal/Pigi counties in northern Jonglei are of extreme concern, where floodwater still covers most available land (Figure 1), households have suffered catastrophic crop and livestock losses, and disease incidence has sharply increased. Multiple assessments, such as those conducted by REACH in June 2021 and October 2021, found that many households were relying on gathering wild foods as their primary food source. Communities are likely still subsisting on wild foods (e.g., water lilies), given the persistence of floodwaters to date, failure of local harvests, large-scale livestock losses, humanitarian access challenges, and some restrictions to household movement due to floodwaters and armed group activity. There is significant concern that this food source will likely become depleted earlier than normal during the upcoming dry season.
Conflict and insecurity: During the main harvesting period in late 2021 (September – December), fatalities related to violence against civilians and battles between armed groups reached the highest level observed since 2018 – the year when the national peace agreement was signed – according to data recorded by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (Figure 2). Intercommunal violence between irregular armed groups – linked to rising resource scarcity amid prolonged conflict and inter-annual floods, retaliation for past attacks, and political motives backed by national-level elites – is of rising concern in Jonglei and Pibor and also continues to affect the greater Tonj area of Warrap and central-southern Unity. Politically-motivated violence, particularly between rival factions of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement/Army in Opposition (SPLM/A-IO) and between the South Sudan People’s Defense Forces (SSPDF) and National Salvation Army (NAS), is primarily responsible for a recent increase in conflict and fatalities in and around Tambura county of Western Equatoria, northern Upper Nile, and Lainya county of Central Equatoria. Banditry along major trade routes is also on the rise once again in Eastern and Central Equatoria, despite political and diplomatic pressure for security forces to prevent such incidents along the routes used by foreign transportation firms.
Violence and generalized insecurity continue to have a severe impact on household food and income sources by restricting access to crop fields, cattle grazing areas, fishing and gathering grounds, and water sources; causing recurrent and protracted displacement; hindering domestic trade flows and household access to markets; impeding humanitarian food assistance deliveries; and disrupting health and nutrition services. For instance, in greater Tonj of Warrap, numerous incidents occurred between the Leer Ajak and Konggor communities in Tonj North, the Loupaher and Luachjang communities in Tonj North and Tonj East, and various Rek communities in Tonj North in late November and December. These events displaced over 2,000 people, damaged the main hospital and disrupted health service delivery in Tonj North, and delayed the delivery of humanitarian supplies, according to WFP. Meanwhile, increased armed activity by splinter SPLM/A-IO forces in Tambura county of Western Equatoria is linked to reports of forced recruitments – an event that can result in a significant shock to a household’s ability to earn income or produce food – and further population displacement from Tambura Central and Mupoi payams to Ezo town and Bagidi payam.
In several conflict-affected areas, floodwaters have yet to recede and are compounding the impacts of sporadic conflict by further restricting household movement in search of food and income sources, especially in northern Jonglei and central Unity where grazing areas for livestock are inundated and households are atypically highly reliant on gathering wild foods to eat. In flood-affected areas of central Unity, for example, intra-Nuer fighting on the border of Leer and Mayendit counties in early December led to the loss of lives and destruction of household assets, looting of humanitarian supplies positioned to serve 14,000 people in need of health and nutrition services, and delays to food assistance delivery under the ongoing flood response. The long-term impacts of conflict, particularly in terms of eroding households’ productive assets and restricting their movement along established conflict lines, also continue to affect areas that have recently witnessed relative calm, such as in Cueibet county in Lakes.
In Pibor – where Famine Likely (IPC Phase 5) was declared in late 2020 – and neighboring central-southern areas of Jonglei, a large-scale resurgence of inter-communal violence between the Dinka of Jonglei and Murle of Pibor remains possible. Persistent attacks between the rival communities led to the looting of over 450 heads of cattle and the killing of 34 civilians in November alone, according to local authorities. In December, armed Murle youths from Pibor allegedly carried out attacks in Walgak and Buong of Akobo West, Palwany of Uror, Nyuak of Twic East, Anyidi of Bor South, and parts of Duk and Pochalla. Despite local government-led peace efforts to quell these incursions, there are now rumors and reports of mobilization on both sides. Large-scale violence would not only lead to loss of life and secondary population displacement, but also further livestock losses and restrictions on household movement in search of food sources, including fishing, hunting, and gathering. The consequences in such a scenario would likely be extreme – although improved crop production and significant food assistance have prevented extreme food insecurity among most of the population, available assessment and key informant information indicate that some households are still at risk of extreme food consumption gaps.
Main season harvest: Available crop monitoring information supports earlier projections that the main 2021 cereal harvest, which is reaching its conclusion in December/January, is most likely similar to higher than 2020 and the five-year average and significantly below pre-conflict levels. As observed in 2019 and 2020, the impacts of conflict and flood shocks, coupled with limited household access to agricultural inputs, limited total planted area and caused significant crop losses across much of South Sudan in 2021. Localized, atypically dry conditions also contributed to reduced crop yields in some areas, such as Kapoeta North in Eastern Equatoria. However, areas where relatively calm conditions prevailed without substantial weather shocks – such as Central and Eastern Equatoria – have seen an increase in planted area and/or crop yields. Pibor, which benefitted from relatively calmer conditions, low flood extent, and livelihoods assistance during the 2021 planting and harvesting periods, has also seen a relative increase in crop production compared to 2020.
Official national production estimates are still pending the completion of the FAO/WFP Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission (CFSAM); however, the FAO released preliminary analysis of flood-related crop production losses in 2021. According to the FAO, about 65,107 hectares of cultivated land were damaged by floods, resulting in an estimated total loss of 37,624 tons of cereals. In comparison to the CFSAM five-year (2016-2020) average of cereal production by state, flood-related crop losses amount to nearly 20 percent of average cereal production in Jonglei and over 15 percent of average cereal production in Warrap (Figure 3). While the relative share of flood-related crop losses in Northern Bahr el Ghazal, Unity, Upper Nile, and Lakes are low in comparison (<= 6 percent) on the state level, the impact at the county- and household level is significant. Specifically, households have little to no harvest in severely flood-affected areas in Mayendit, Panyijiar, Leer, and Mayom counties of Unity; Aweil South, Aweil East, and Aweil North counties of Northern Bahr el Ghazal; and Panyikang of Upper Nile.
Livestock production: The impacts of the 2021 floods on livestock remain severe, leading to a drastic reduction in household food and income from livestock sales and milk production. Floodwaters have saturated pasture and browse, contaminated water sources, and led to the over-crowding of livestock in available dry grazing grounds. The worst-affected areas are agropastoral and pastoral livelihood zones spanning Unity, Jonglei, and Upper Nile as well as parts of Lakes, Warrap, and Northern Bahr el Ghazal.
According to the FAO’s preliminary analysis, an estimated 795,558 heads of livestock have died due to flood-related causes, with nearly 355,000 animals lost in Unity state alone (Figure 4). County authorities in Unity also report the death of over 1,500 head of cattle and an unidentified number of shoats in Rubkona county and over 500 heads of cattle and 2,300 heads of shoats in Mayendit due to water pollution from flooded oil wells. Millions of additional flood-affected livestock are in poor health. The FAO reports a three-fold increase in livestock disease incidence compared to normal, including but not limited to foot rot, lumpy skin disease, and worm infestations. Cases of Newcastle disease and shoat disease were also reported in and around Yei River of Central Equatoria.
As floodwaters begin to recede in some areas, physical access to pasture and browse will improve. Currently, there are reports from parts of Lakes, Warrap, Western and Northern Bahr el Ghazal, and eastern Jonglei that livestock are beginning to migrate to dry season grazing areas.
Markets and trade: On the one hand, rising imports from Uganda and relatively calm conditions are facilitating normal market functioning in most state capitals and in some western rural areas. On the other hand, market supply and domestic trade flows to flood- and conflict-affected areas in eastern, northern, and southern South Sudan remain significantly disrupted due to the impassability of roads, threats of attacks and banditry along supply routes, and low local crop production. In some of the worst flood-affected areas, such as Fangak, Canal/Pigi, and Ayod, there is limited to no market activity currently; in other areas where floodwaters are receding, such as in Upper Nile, market activity is recovering. In terms of cross-border trade flows, sorghum imports from Uganda through the Nimule border crossing point were 245 percent higher in November 2021 compared to the same month of 2020. However, cereal imports from Sudan through the Gok-Machar and Warawar border crossing points are currently limited due to the effects of the Sudanese political crisis.
Staple food prices in the major monitored markets of Juba, Wau, and Rumbek Centre were generally stable from October to December (Figure 5). This trend is consistent with the positive effect of the unified exchange rate on import levels since April 2021 and suggests that imports have helped alleviate the impact of floods and conflict on market supply. However, Aweil Centre – where prices are currently the lowest of the four monitored markets – recorded a steady increase linked to both local crop production losses and limited imports from Sudan, given Sudan’s political crisis. In December, analysis of monthly price monitoring data in CLiMIS indicates that the retail price of a malwa (3.5 kg) of white sorghum ranged from 13 to 50 percent below December 2020 in all four markets. However, persistently high import and transportation costs kept the sorghum price 10-50 percent above the five-year average in Aweil, Wau, and Rumbek and twice the average in Juba.
Relatively more favorable staple food prices have only marginally improved food access for most households during the harvest period, as the slight improvement in broader macroeconomic conditions has not trickled down to create adequate income-earning opportunities. The amount of sorghum that a household can purchase from the market with a day’s wage generally remained similar between October and November in Juba (5 kg) and Aweil (39 kg) and slightly increased from 18 kg in October to 20 kg in November in Wau.
Humanitarian food assistance: WFP’s final monthly distribution reports indicate that only 11-12 percent of the national population received food assistance in October and November, and a similar level of assistance likely occurred in December. In December, specifically, WFP’s weekly interim reports indicate that 278,350 flood-affected people (approximately 33 percent of the total flood-affected population estimated by OCHA) received a general food assistance distribution (GFD). During this period, WFP primarily prioritized food assistance delivery to flood-affected areas and areas where final 2021 lean season distributions had been delayed due to insecurity or flooding. The scale of national food assistance needs, coupled with numerous logistic and security challenges in delivering food assistance to flood and conflict-affected areas, is outpacing the availability of funding for food assistance. In order to plan for the 2022 lean season response, when food assistance needs are typically even higher, humanitarian partners are compelled to scale down food assistance delivery during the harvest period. As a result, food assistance is currently prioritized to a few areas where needs are highest and humanitarian access is minimally adequate. However, the severity of the impacts of recurrent flood and conflict shocks on household food and income sources across much of the country means that millions of people still face food consumption gaps.
Current food security outcomes: Based on preliminary insights from the 27th round of WFP’s Food Security and Nutrition Monitoring System, available key informant information, and the latest food assistance distribution reports, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes have persisted during the 2021 harvest period. The compounding impacts of recurrent floods since 2019 and protracted conflict since 2013 have led to the long-term erosion of livestock holdings, capacity for crop cultivation, and availability of market-based income-earning opportunities, which have limited the degree of seasonal improvement in household food availability and access to food during the main harvest period. Furthermore, the latest flood and conflict shocks in mid-to-late 2021, as well as localized dryness in the greater Kapoeta region of Eastern Equatoria, have largely reduced or prevented even marginal gains in seasonal food and income from crop and livestock production. Additionally, inadequate sources of income coupled with high food prices continue to constrain household purchasing power.
As a result, households have severe food consumption gaps, low coping capacity, and atypically high levels of acute malnutrition indicative of Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes in the worst-affected areas. Areas of high concern include northern and central Jonglei (Fangak, Canal/Pigi, Ayod, Akobo, Uror), Pibor, Lakes (Cuiebet, Rumbek North, Awerial), Unity (Mayom, Koch), the greater Tonj area of Warrap, and western and southern Upper Nile (Panyikang, Fashoda, Manyo, and Baliet). Of these locations, the areas of extreme concern include Fangak, Canal/Pigi, Pibor, Cueibet, and Rumbek North counties, where the latest available information points to a high likelihood that some households face extreme food consumption gaps indicative of Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5).
Humanitarian food assistance is currently a lifeline for up to 1.5 million people, preventing more severe outcomes in several flood- or conflict-affected areas such as northern and southern Unity, Tambura County in Western Equatoria, and Northern Bahr el Ghazal. In particular, food assistance is likely preventing large to extreme food consumption gaps in the severely flood-affected counties of Leer, Mayendit, and Panyijiar in Unity. However, the national scale of food assistance remains well below the total population that currently needs food assistance, which FEWS NET estimates ranges between 6 and 7 million.
Revisions to the assumptions used to develop FEWS NET’s most likely scenario for the South Sudan Food Security Outlook for October 2021 to May 2022 are below:
- Continued delays to the implementation of key elements of the peace agreement, including the graduation of cadets under a newly unified national security force and the return of refugees from neighboring countries, have increased political uncertainty and undermined confidence that planned elections will take place in 2023. The continued delays will likely contribute to increased clashes between the rival Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO) security forces across the country in the coming months.
- In Upper Nile and Western Equatoria, conflict between General Simon Gatwech Dual’s and Vice President Riek Machar’s rival SPLM/A-IO factions is highly likely to escalate again with little notice, given continued reports of officer desertions from one side to another and accusations of political interference from Juba. There are likely to be continued attempts from dissenters to destabilize support within the SPLM-IO in the coming year, leading to further clashes. Further splintering and proliferation of additional armed factions are also possible, increasing the potential for violent clashes.
- Intercommunal violence, linked to long-standing fault lines, resource scarcity, and political factors, is likely to rise in Jonglei, Pibor, Warrap, Lakes, and Unity during the January to May dry season. As floodwaters recede, this will permit greater ground movement and give way to increasing competition over scarce resources such as grazing lands and cattle.
- In the Greater Equatoria, the frequency of armed ambushes along major transport corridors such as the Juba-Nimule and Kapoeta-Torit roads shows signs of increasing insecurity. The increase coincides with the start of the dry season and receding floodwaters, both of which facilitate the movement of goods and adversarial actors. Heightened banditry will likely affect commercial and humanitarian movements, causing knock-on impacts to local market and humanitarian assistance supply chains. Scarcity of goods and aid will likely exacerbate tensions caused by long-running cycles of retaliatory violence, leading to further instances of intercommunal violence.
- Atypically high floodwaters and wetland extent are likely to persist into the 2021/2022 dry season in the Nile River basin, Sudd Wetland, and Sobat River basin in central and eastern South Sudan. As a result, the hardest-hit communities in northern Jonglei and Unity are likely to rely on fishing and gathering wild foods – including those with little to no nutritional value like water lilies – at atypically high levels for a prolonged time. In addition, while past trends show that many flood-displaced people will return home as floodwaters recede, a significant number will likely remain in IDP camps or host communities. Finally, the start of main season agricultural production activities in unimodal areas in March/April, which usually include land clearance and preparation, will likely be delayed and limit area planted in these unimodal areas.
- Based on NOAA and USGS analysis of historical analog years with similar climatic conditions and the latest NMME and WMO weather forecast models, the March to May 2022 first rainfall season in southern and western bimodal areas of South Sudan is most likely to be above average. The rains are expected to support timely agricultural production in March/April in these areas, which are typically more productive and have relatively calm security conditions compared to the rest of the country. Building on the reported increase in crop production in these areas in 2021, area planted in 2022 is likely to be higher than 2021, supported by the relative calm and return of refugees from neighboring countries.
- Based on FEWS NET’s integrated price projections, the retail price per malwa (3.5 kg) of white sorghum is expected to remain stable or rise gradually from February to May 2022, which coincides with the post-harvest period and the gradual depletion of household food stocks depletion. As prices start to rise, the sorghum price in the key reference markets of Juba and Bor South is expected to peak at levels 60-80 percent higher than the same period of 2021 and up to 230 percent above the five-year average. Price trends are expected to be more favorable in Aweil Centre and Wau, where the sorghum price is expected to trend 30-65 percent below the same period of 2021 and up to 25 percent above the five-year average. Differences in local market price dynamics are driven by low market integration, regional variations in local crop production and imported supply flows, higher market dependence in Juba, and transportation costs. The sorghum price is projected to be highest in Juba (1,311-1,426 SSP/malwa) and lowest in Aweil (296-353 SSP/malwa).
- Based on new food assistance plans from WFP, humanitarians plan to reach a maximum of 4.3 million beneficiaries, equivalent to 36 percent of the national population, between February and May. Past trends strongly suggest that planned targets are typically not fully achieved on a monthly basis, and this figure likely more accurately reflects bi-monthly distribution targets. Based on past distribution reports for the same period of 2020 and 2021 and available funding levels, it is most likely that 15 percent of the national population, on average, will receive food assistance monthly. WFP has indicated to FEWS NET that ration sizes will likely be adequate for up to 15 days for most households, while flood-affected households in Fangak and Canal/Pigi should receive larger rations lasting up to 21 days given the extreme level of need.
Overall, the net size of the acutely food insecure population and the severity of acute food insecurity is expected to gradually deteriorate through May, which overlaps with the post-harvest period and the anticipated, atypically early start of the 2022 lean season in March. In some areas, such as central Unity and parts of Upper Nile, receding floodwaters will permit an increase in population movement and economic activity, facilitating marginal improvement from Emergency (IPC Phase 4) to Crisis (IPC Phase 3). In other areas, such as Jonglei, greater Tonj of Warrap, and northern Lakes, food insecurity is expected to worsen since floods and conflict have eliminated the opportunity to recover recent crop and livestock losses, eroded market functioning and income-earning activities, and placed heightened pressure on the availability of other food sources such as wild foods. Furthermore, the expected escalation in armed conflict and intercommunal violence will present new shocks to households in conflict hot spots across the country during the dry season, especially in parts of Jonglei, Pibor, greater Tonj, Unity, Upper Nile, and Western Equatoria. Food insecurity will likely also worsen in some bimodal areas of Greater Equatoria as poor households deplete their harvest stocks. In some cases, such as Northern Bahr el Ghazal, limited humanitarian resources are likely to translate to a reduction in current levels of food assistance in order to reach populations facing more extreme outcomes, leading to the local deterioration from Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) to Emergency (IPC Phase 4).
FEWS NET estimates that the total population facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes will most likely increase within the range of 6-7 million through May, including the deterioration of several hundred thousand people from Crisis (IPC Phase 3) to Emergency (IPC Phase 4). The counties of extreme concern will most likely continue to include Fangak and Canal/Pigi of Jonglei, Pibor, and Cueibet and Rumbek North of Lakes, where some households are expected to have extreme food consumption gaps indicative of Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) due to the complete loss of household harvests; severity of household livestock losses; very limited household income and purchasing capacity; and dependence on wild foods. While humanitarian food assistance is expected to be sustained in Pibor and scaled up in the other four counties, the scale of the population facing large food consumption gaps and rising levels of conflict and insecurity will likely continue to result in severe to extreme outcomes. Elsewhere, areas of high concern will most likely include Jonglei (e.g., Akobo, Uror, Ayod), Unity (e.g., Mayendit, Leer, Panyijiar, Rubkona, Mayom), greater Tonj of Warrap, Upper Nile (e.g., Panyikang, Manyo, Ulang, Maiwut, Fashoda, and Nasir), Northern Bahr el Ghazal, and Tambura of Western Equatoria.
Nationally, there is still a risk of Famine (IPC Phase 5) in areas with large populations in Emergency (IPC Phase 4). While it is currently not the most likely scenario, past events in South Sudan demonstrate the potential for conflict and extreme flooding to isolate households from food sources and lead to extreme food insecurity. Areas of highest concern for this credible, alternative scenario are in Jonglei, particularly in Fangak, Pibor, and Canal/Pigi, where households face Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) and the loss of livelihood assets is widespread. However, new areas of highest concern can arise quickly if conflict shifts. An end to conflict, accompanied by humanitarian interventions to rebuild livelihoods, resilience, and coping capacity, is required to reduce the risk of Famine (IPC Phase 5).
Source: FAO and CFSAM data
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.