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Critical gaps in basic food needs continue for many in Greater Upper Nile

  • Food Security Outlook
  • South Sudan
  • February - September 2016
Critical gaps in basic food needs continue for many in Greater Upper Nile

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  • Key Messages
  • Preface
  • National Overview

  • Preface

    FEWS NET produces forward-looking food security analysis and IPC compatible mapping several times a year for 36 countries, including South Sudan. FEWS NET is a member of South Sudan’s multi-stakeholder IPC Technical Working Group and an active participant in national IPC analysis workshops in South Sudan. The map and classifications in this report use IPC standards and methods, but do not necessarily reflect a consensus view of the national IPC Technical Working Group, IPC partners, or the Government of the Republic of South Sudan. The next national IPC analysis is expected to convene in April 2016.

    Key Messages
    • More than 2.3 million people have been displaced by the ongoing insecurity in South Sudan. Protracted conflict continues to severely limit food access and availability for many as livelihoods remain inaccessible, market functioning is severely disrupted, and the delivery of essential humanitarian assistance is restricted. According to the December 2015 IPC update, approximately 40,000 worst-affected households in central Unity State are expected to be facing an extreme lack of food and are in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5)[1].

    • Broader areas of Unity State are in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) and face an elevated risk for high levels of acute malnutrition and potentially elevated mortality. Following poor 2015/16 harvests and as food access becomes further restricted by high purchase prices and low incomes, northern Jonglei and parts of Upper Nile will also move to Emergency (IPC Phase 4) in the absence of continued and further humanitarian access as more households begin to experience larger gaps in their basic food needs.

    • Staple food prices remain very high across the country while available income for purchase remains well below average for many. The limited availability of foreign currency and continuing depreciation of the South Sudanese Pound are contributing to making importing food commodities difficult and keeping prices high. These economic conditions, which constrain household market access, are contributing to high levels of acute food insecurity for many outside of Greater Upper Nile, including among urban populations.

    National Overview
    Current Situation

    Conflict continues across much of the country. Fighting between the Government of the Republic of South Sudan (GRSS) and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in Opposition (SPLA-IO) in Greater Upper Nile, particularly in central Unity State, continues to severely limit food availability and access for many. Ongoing conflict also restricts the delivery of life-saving humanitarian assistance to the region. Despite the signing of the peace deal between the Government and armed actors in Western Equatoria sporadic clashes continued in mid-January and early February. As conflict in South Sudan has become more fragmented and sporadic attacks continue, changes in the security situation is more dynamic. More localized clashes continue in other parts of Greater Bahr el Ghazal and localized areas of Greater Equatoria, disrupting livelihoods, restricting agricultural production, and limiting trade flows.

    While somewhat poorly distributed rainfall in Greater Equatoria contributed to below-average production, continuing conflict has been the main driver of poor harvests in 2015/16 as many were kept from cultivating and/or harvesting. Agricultural production was well below 2014/15 harvests. Many areas worst-affected by conflict in Unity, Jonglei, and Upper Nile States brought in limited to no harvest. Below-average production in many areas of Greater Upper Nile and Greater Equatoria has led to many households exhausting their harvest stocks much earlier than normal. The situation is even more critical in areas where there were no harvests at all. Below-average production in southern, surplus producing areas is also contributing to an atypically high import dependence for South Sudan.

    South Sudan’s macro-economic situation remains very worrying as the country struggles to implement the peace agreement. Insecurity has continued to limit oil extraction in Unity State. Currently the country exports about 160,000 barrels per day, largely from Upper Nile State. The reduced extraction of oil comes in the face of low prices for oil exports, cutting oil earnings and availability of foreign currency. This has contributed to high rates of inflation in South Sudan and a depreciation of the value of the South Sudanese Pound. In December 2015 the Government of South Sudan officially devalued the currency, implementing a floating rate policy.

    The scarcity of foreign reserve and continuing depreciation of the South Sudanese Pound continues to contribute to limited capacity to import staple foods and high prices for the commodities that are imported. In a normal year, South Sudan would already be reliant on imports to meet staple food needs as the country does not typically produce enough to meet national consumption requirements. With national 2015/16 production well below what was seen the previous year, there is a greater import need this year to meet domestic food requirements. The level of imports from Uganda and Ethiopia have increased since 2014, but volumes of trade still remain low and staple food prices remain high.

    Prices for staple foods remain significantly higher than last year and the five-year average (Figure 1 and 2) in markets across the country. Despite the recent October to December dry harvests, prices of staple foods have not declined as they seasonally do during the post-harvest season. Prices of staple foods remained high due to reduced national production, the limited availability of imports, the impact of the devaluation of the South Sudanese Pound, as well as insecurity restricting trade flows within country.

    In Aweil, despite the opening of the border with the Sudan in late January 2016, only limited supplies have been observed coming in from Sudan. In Wau and Aweil the price of sorghum increased by 233 and 230 percent respectively in January 2016 compared to January 2015. The price of maize in Juba in January 2016 was 252 percent higher than in January 2015. Similar price trends are seen across the country.

    The high price of fuel and sporadic supply breaks also contribute to the high prices of staple foods. While the official fuel price has remained 22 SSP per liter, the parallel market price in Juba was 33 SSP per liter in the last week of February 2016. Although trade routes with Greater Bahr el Ghazal have become seasonally passable, more localized clashes and insecurity in Western Equatoria between January and February are preventing normal flows of commodities to markets in Greater Bahr el Ghazal also contributing to the high food prices in destination markets. In recent months, insecurity along the Juba-Terekeka-Yirol-Rumbek trade route also reduced market supply entering Rumbek despite improved seasonal road access.

    As purchase prices for staple foods remain high, food access is further restricted by stagnant and declining household incomes. Continued insecurity and displacements prevent and/or limit access to typical income sources including crop and livestock sales for the many displaced and resident communities. Reports of livestock looting continue in many areas. Labor opportunities have also remained significantly reduced for many households due to the protracted nature of the conflict, and in many cases wages have not kept up with inflation.

    With the relative easing of conflict in Jonglei and improved seasonal road access, delivery of humanitarian assistance has improved allowing aid agencies to reach displaced and resident households in Twic East, Duk, Ayod, Fangak, Nyirol and Uror Counties. Similarly, delivery of humanitarian assistance to IDPs and host households in Panyijiar and Rubkona Counties has slightly improved with the ongoing efforts in implementation of the peace agreement. Although improving, humanitarian access remains limited in Guit, Mayendit, Koch and Leer in Unity State, Baliet, Ulang and Manyo in Upper Nile, and Canal in Jonglei due to the continued insecurity. Delivery of humanitarian assistance remained consistent to many refugee camps and the Protection of Civilians (POC) sites in Maban, Melut, Bentiu, Malakal and Bor over the past three months.

    As of February 29, 2016, UNHCR estimated 640,918 people had fled to neighboring countries since start of the conflict in December 2013. An estimated 1.69 million people are currently internally displaced within South Sudan due to the protracted conflict. Access to food and income sources for the many displaced remain significantly disrupted with the continued sporadic violence. The vast majority of the internally displaced are in Unity, Jonglei and Upper Nile States. In addition, South Sudan also currently hosts 268,352 refugees from neighboring countries.

    Levels of acute malnutrition and mortality remain at emergency levels in Greater Upper Nile due to the ongoing insecurity. An analysis of 19 SMART surveys conducted in 2015 in conflict-affected counties in Unity, Jonglei and Upper Nile recorded a median crude mortality rate of 1/10,000/day. However, 41 SMART surveys conducted during the same period across the country indicate that the national median crude mortality rate during 2015 was 0.65/10,000/day, which is below the WHO emergency threshold of 1/10,000/day. In Unity, six SMART surveys conducted between April and December 2015 recorded GAM prevalences between 20 to 34 percent indicating a persistence of high levels of acute malnutrition across seasons, which could be attributed to impacts of the conflict, and limited access to food and humanitarian assistance. 14 SMART nutrition surveys conducted in Upper Nile and Jonglei States between March and December 2015 recorded GAM prevalences between 15 and 23 percent, also indicating emergency levels. The most recent SMART surveys conducted in Wau-Shilluk in December 2015 and in Leer in February 2016 recorded GAM prevalences of 11.2 percent (95 percent CI: 8.0-15.5) and 13.8 percent (95 percent CI: 10.7-17.6) respectively, indicating an improvement in the nutrition situation that is common during the harvest season.

    Food security outcomes for many in central Unity remain dire due to lack of own food stocks and limited to no market access as ongoing conflict severely restricted 2015/16 cropping activities and market functioning remains minimal to non-existent. The ongoing insecurity is limiting the gathering of wild foods and fishing, as well as the delivery of humanitarian assistance to most, many of whom are displaced, living in swamps. While central Unity State remains in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) in February, FEWS NET’s analysis concurs with the December 2015 IPC update, which indicates an estimated 40,000 people are likely in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5)[1] in Guit, Koch, Mayendit, and Leer Counties in Unity State as they face a an extreme lack of access to food.

    Broader areas of Unity, Jonglei and Upper Nile States remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) as households face difficulty meeting their basic food needs in the face of ongoing conflict. Market access remains severely restricted in many areas, and household availability of food is constrained by limited stocks from own harvest. Across much of the rest of the country, below-average harvests for poor households have meant household food stocks are depleting more quickly than normal. Below-average seasonal incomes come in the face of high-than-usual prices of staple foods and reduced market supplies. Access to fish and wild foods have started declining seasonally as the dry season progresses towards the rainy season which starts in May. Some households still maintain access to livestock products despite majority of the livestock having been migrated to dry season grazing areas. Much of Greater Bahr el Ghazal and Greater Equatoria are Stressed (IPC Phase 2) in February as many poor households are unable to meet their basic non-food needs.

    National Assumptions

    From February to September, projected food security outcomes are based on the following national assumptions:

    • Sporadic clashes in Greater Upper Nile are expected to continue despite the ongoing implementation of the peace agreement signed in August 2015 by the government and the SPLA-IO. The pace of implementation has been slow and there still remain contentious issues not yet resolved by the two sides. Sporadic clashes and fragmented conflict are expected to continue throughout much of the country. Localized intercommunal and functional flare ups in parts of Jonglei (Akobo and Pibor) are likely to re-occur. The situation in Western Equatoria is also likely to continue causing insecurity along major trade routes in Western Equatoria State hindering movement of people and goods. In Lakes and Warrap States, inter-communal fighting and cattle raiding are likely to escalate during the dry season between February and April given the early depletion of pastures and watering points.

    • Indications from major forecast centers suggest March to May/June rainy season in the greenbelt is likely to be average to above-average in terms of cumulative rainfall with a near normal start while the June to September rains are expected to be near average tending to above-average in terms of cumulative rainfall.

    • With the onset of the rains in the spring/summer, road access will become further restricted as rains disrupt route access. This comes in addition to conflict restricting route access in many areas.

    • Assuming the start of the season will be timely, the first harvest is expected in July in the bimodal areas of Greater Equatoria (Equatorial maize and cassava livelihood zone). In Greater Upper Nile and Greater Bahr el Ghazal where the season starts in May, green consumption is expected to start in August/September. This is expected to improve food availability for those able to harvest. However, in areas across the country where insecurity is expected to disrupt livelihood activities, delayed planting and significantly reduced areas cultivated will result in substantial reductions in green harvests.

    • Fishing activities are expected to increase seasonally during the period of January to April and decrease in May and June and start to increase again in July with flooding. Fishing activity is expected to concentrate along the main water bodies from January to April while pool fishing will take place during the floods period. Quantities of fish is expected to be at normal levels.

    • In Greater Upper Nile and neighboring areas, incomes from typical sources will remain below-average as insecurity deters many from participating in their typical livelihoods activities. Poor households will attempt to increase their sale of natural resources such as firewood, charcoal and grass mainly from January to April as they face high food prices and low incomes from typical sources. In areas controlled by the opposition, reduced circulation of cash and limited access to these products will decrease income from sale of natural resources. Hunting and sale of game meat is also expected to peak during this period though this is likely to benefit mainly communities in Jonglei, parts of Upper Nile, parts of Lakes and Greater Equatoria. The sale of fish will reduce significantly between April and June and start to increase from July when water level and hence fish availability increase.

    • South Sudan’s national economy remains fragile with the slow pace of implementation of the August peace agreement. Falling oil revenues and shortage of foreign currencies is expected to contribute to continued depreciation in the South Sudanese Pound.

    • In the north of the country, market and trade route functioning are expected to remain highly disrupted. Some disruptions and reduced activity are anticipated in areas outside of Greater Upper Nile due to the continued localized insecurity and sporadic clashes preventing trade flows and normal market functioning. The restricted capacity to import and high market prices will also contribute to reduced market access.

    • Staple cereal (sorghum, maize) prices are expected to remain well above average due to high levels of demand following earlier than usual depletion of own food stocks, the low volumes of imports needed to offset the national gap in production, increase in transportation costs associated with high fuel prices and scarcity, and the continued depreciation of the South Sudanese Pound.

    • Continued civil insecurity will prevent typical livestock migration in many areas of Jonglei, Unity and Lakes. Herders are likely to avoid these usual dry season migration areas. Cattle-rustling is expected to continue in parts of Jonglei, Unity and Lakes during the February to April period due to competition for the available water and pastures and attempts by households to recover their lost animals. Livestock owning households will maintain access to livestock products (meat, milk) while some households will consume less from February to May as livestock are still away in the dry season grazing areas. Typical livestock migration is expected in relatively stable States of Warrap and Northern Bahr El Ghazal with livestock expected to return near homesteads on time around May/June, thus increasing availability of livestock products.

    • In view of the below-average 2015 harvests and the ongoing insecurity, in Greater Upper Nile in particular, the limited access to food and health and nutrition services is expected to result in, levels of acute malnutrition are generally expected to follow seasonal trends but will likely remain above 15 percent in conflict-affected areas of Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei between February and April. GAM levels are expected to rise to more than 20 percent in the May-July lean season, as the burden of infectious waterborne diseases, especially diarrhea, also increases. However, the nutrition situation is expected to improve and GAM levels are expected to fall to 10-15 percent in August/September across much of the country, a period that is characterized by the green harvest and increased consumption of wild foods and fish.

    • The assumption used for this analysis is that current levels of humanitarian access will continue. While access to many areas in Greater Upper Nile has improved, ongoing conflict and displacement is expected to continue to limit essential humanitarian assistance delivery in highly conflict-affected areas, and the fragmented nature of conflict in many areas of the country will affect the stability of assistance delivery. Humanitarian access to many official camps is assumed to remain stable.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    From February to May, food availability and access for displaced and conflict-affected resident households will decline as own production stocks are depleted much earlier than normal following below-average harvests and prices for key staples remain high amidst declining access to income sources. Many areas in Greater Equatoria and Greater Bahr el Ghazal will move from Stressed (IPC Phase 2) to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) as food access is constrained by high market prices brought on by limited supplies and continued depreciation of the South Sudanese Pound. As this comes in the face of stable to decreasing seasonal incomes, poor households will face difficulty meeting their basic food needs due to their limited access to purchase

    The acute food security situation in Greater Upper Nile will remain very dire. Facing a severely limited access to food, a growing population of households in central Unity State are expected to continue to face Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) outcomes. Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes will persist in Guit, Koch, Leer and Mayendit as the ongoing insecurity restricts the delivery of humanitarian assistance to many areas. Furthermore, the availability of fishing and wild foods will decline during the dry season. Areas of northern Upper Nile State will also move to Emergency (IPC Phase 4) as many poor households begin to experience larger gaps in their basic food needs. The delivery of humanitarian assistance is expected to keep many areas in Crisis! (IPC Phase3!) in Greater Upper Nile through May. Many areas of the region, although somewhat less directly affected by the continuing conflict, will remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) as the majority of poor households still face difficulty meeting their basic food needs. With the widening of food consumption gaps especially between March and July, the risk of famine is even high if not humanitarian assistance reaches to these areas. Increased humanitarian assistance would help reduced food consumption gaps for many of the displaced.

    Between June and September in Greater Upper Nile, insecurity will continue to prevent access to typical food and incomes for the many displaced and host communities. Broader areas of the region will move to Emergency (IPC Phase 4) as the larger gaps in food consumption faced by many put large areas of the region at increased risk for high levels of acute malnutrition and excess mortality. Much of Greater Bahr el Ghazal and eastern areas of Western Equatoria will remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) as food access leading up to their main harvest in October remains restricted by high food prices. Beginning in June/July, food security outcomes in southern South Sudan are expected to improve with the availability of first season harvests in bimodal areas.


    [1] Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, or IPC, describes acute food insecurity at the household level and area level. At the household level, Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) is described as: “Even with any humanitarian assistance, household group has an extreme lack of food and/or other basic needs even with full employment of coping strategies.” Famine (IPC Phase 5) applies to the area level and is declared when more than 20 percent of households are classified in Catastrophe, the prevalence of GAM exceeds 30 percent, and the Crude Death Rate exceeds 2/10,000/day.


    For more information on the outlook for specific areas of concern, please click the download button at the top of the page for the full report.

    Figures Seasonal calendar for a typical year

    Figure 1

    Seasonal calendar for a typical year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Current food security outcomes, February 2016

    Figure 2

    Current food security outcomes, February 2016

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 1. Nominal retail prices for Sorghum in Aweil, South Sudan

    Figure 3

    Figure 1

    Source: WFP

    Figure 2. Nominal retail prices for maize in Juba, South Sudan

    Figure 4

    Figure 2

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 3. Market and Trade functioning as of February 9, 2016

    Figure 5

    Figure 3

    Source: FEWS NET

    To project food security outcomes, FEWS NET develops a set of assumptions about likely events, their effects, and the probable responses of various actors. FEWS NET analyzes these assumptions in the context of current conditions and local livelihoods to arrive at a most likely scenario for the coming eight months. Learn more here.

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