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A Famine (IPC Phase 5) is likely occurring in parts of Unity State

  • Food Security Outlook
  • South Sudan
  • February - September 2017
A Famine (IPC Phase 5) is likely occurring in parts of Unity State

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  • Key Messages
  • Famine (IPC Phase 5) likely occurring in part of Unity State
  • Key Messages
    • In January, the South Sudan IPC Technical Working Group (TWG) raised concerns that Famine (IPC Phase 5) could be ongoing in parts of central Unity. Upon reviewing the analysis, the IPC’s Emergency Review Committee (ERC) concluded that while available evidence was insufficient to make a Famine determination following IPC protocols, Famine (IPC Phase 5) was likely occurring in Leer, possibly occurring in Koch, and that humanitarian assistance was preventing Famine (IPC Phase 5) in Mayendit. Based on these ERC conclusions, the South Sudan TWG declared that Famine (IPC Phase 5) was the most likely outcome in Leer and Mayendit during the February-July period. 

    • Due to assistance delivered in February, it is likely that Mayendit remains in Emergency (IPC Phase 4!). Humanitarian actors gained access to Leer in late February - beneficiaries have been registered for assistance and distributions have begun. As of early March, no access has been granted to Koch. 

    • The ability to deliver assistance to highly food insecure areas is likely to remain volatile throughout 2017, as highlighted by the recent evacuation of aid workers from Mayendit. In the absence of large-scale humanitarian assistance, Famine is likely in Mayendit and Panyijiar and expected to continue in Leer and Koch through at least July.

    • An estimated 3.8 million people are currently facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes or worse across South Sudan, and the size of the food insecure population is expected to rise to 5.5 million during the May to July lean season due to a combination of poor production, limited livelihoods options, and food prices which are expected to remain five to ten times above the five-year average.

    • A number of areas outside of central Unity are also expected to face severe food insecurity across the February to July period. In Northern Bahr el Ghazal, food security outcomes in December 2016 were worse than at the same time in 2015, despite a four-fold increase in food assistance. Emergency (IPC Phase 4) is expected in these areas during the lean season. Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes, and the associated risk of increased mortality, are also anticipated in parts of Western Bahr el Ghazal, Jonglei, Upper Nile, and Central Equatoria.

    Famine (IPC Phase 5) likely occurring in part of Unity State

    The potential for Famine in Unity State has been a concern since the onset of conflict in 2013/14 and was highlighted most recently in FEWS NET’s January 2017 food security Alert. On February 20, 2017, the South Sudan Government and the IPC Technical Working Group declared that Famine (IPC Phase 5) is ongoing in Leer, likely in Mayendit, and possible in Koch.

    According to the IPC, a Famine (IPC Phase 5) has occurred when at least 20 percent of the households in a given area have an extreme lack of food, the Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) prevalence, as measure by weight-for-height z-score, exceeds 30 percent, and mortality, as measured by the Crude Death Rate (CDR), is greater than 2 per 10,000 per day.

    Although efforts have been made to collect comprehensive food security data, information remains limited and data were insufficient to make a Famine (IPC Phase 5) determination following established IPC protocols. While reliable data on acute malnutrition were collected in Leer, no food consumption or mortality data were available for this county. Data for Koch was even more limited. Nutrition and mortality data were collected in Mayendit, but no county-level food consumption data were available.

    While there was a lack of sufficient data to meet established IPC data requirements, it was the professional judgment of the Global IPC Emergency Review Committee, given the information that was available, that Famine (IPC Phase 5) was likely ongoing in Leer, possibly ongoing in Koch, and being prevented by ongoing humanitarian assistance in Mayendit. This expert judgment was the basis of the formal Famine declaration.

    Due to assistance delivered in February to more than 100,000 people, it is likely that Mayendit is currently in Emergency (IPC Phase 4!). Humanitarian actors gained access to Leer in late February - beneficiaries have been registered for assistance and distributions have begun. As of early March, no access has been granted to Koch. 

    The ability to deliver assistance is likely to remain volatile throughout 2017, as highlighted by the recent evacuation of aid workers from Mayendit. In the absence of large-scale humanitarian assistance, Famine (IPC Phase 5) is likely in Mayendit and Panyijiar and expected to continue in Leer and Koch through at least July.

    SMART surveys are planned in Leer, Koch, and Mayendit between March and May 2017 and the results will provide additional information on the GAM prevalence and mortality outcomes in each of these counties. 


    Current Situation

    Early 2016 was marked by optimism that conflict would lessen and food security would improve in South Sudan following the formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU). In July 2016, though, clashes in Juba led to renewed conflict in much of Greater Upper Nile (GUN) and Western Bahr el Ghazal and spread to previously peaceful regions in Greater Equatoria (Figure 1). As a result, displacement has rapidly increased, macroeconomic conditions continue to worsen, and severe levels of acute food insecurity persist in all regions across seasons.

    A recent UN report warned that the war in South Sudan has reached "catastrophic proportions" and civilians are fleeing in record numbers. Since the outbreak of the initial conflict in December 2013, an estimated 1.85 million people have been internally displaced and 1.4 million have fled to neighboring countries (Figure 2).

    Conflict in Wau Shilluk and Malakal of Upper Nile in January and February displaced the entire population, roughly 20,400 people, of Wau Shilluk. Clashes were reported in Renk around the same time, resulting in the displacement of an unverified number of people. In Western Bahr el Ghazal, clashes between the Government and opposition forces is occasionally reported and fighting between pastoralists and farmers in Jur River in late January displaced up to 4,000 people to Wau and around 10,000 to Mbili and Jebel Teak. In Jonglei, although security has remained largely stable, fighting in Yuai of Uror in mid-February resulted in the displacement of an unknown number of people.

    The refugee population has increased significantly since July 2016, driven primarily by conflict in Greater Equatoria that is forcing households to flee to Uganda. Over 58,000 people fled to Uganda in January and an additional 56,000 arrived by mid-February. The country now hosts over 750,000 South Sudanese refugees, 500,000 of whom arrived after July 2016. Although at lower numbers, South Sudanese are also fleeing to Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In the first two months of 2017, nearly 32,000 South Sudanese fled to Sudan, 1,500 to Kenya, 3,200 to Ethiopia, and 1,500 to the DRC.

    Macroeconomic conditions in South Sudan continue to deteriorate. Oil production, the primary source of national revenue, remains at 160,000 barrels per day, after dropping from 350,000 barrels per day following the initial outbreak of conflict in December 2013. The global oil price increased from 46.97 USD/barrel in late 2016 to 55.47 USD/barrel in February 2017, but the modest rise has not significantly increased total oil revenue. Low USD earnings and ongoing conflict are together discouraging the development of other non-oil revenue sources, and the South Sudanese Pound (SSP) continues to depreciate, reducing the capacity of the Government and traders to import commodities. The exchange rate in February 2017 stood at 125 SSP/USD, a further depreciation from 73 SSP/USD in October 2016. Fuel shortages have been reported throughout the country. In Juba, the retail price of petrol on the parallel market increased from 180 SSP/liter in January to 200 SSP/liter in February. This has increased the cost of transportation, which, alongside inflation, is driving food price increases.

    According to the Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission (CFSAM), 2016 production was below average in several states. In all states of Greater Equatoria, Jonglei, Unity, and Western Bahr el Ghazal, production was estimated between 15 and 40 percent below the 2012-2015 average. Western and Central Equatoria are typically surplus-producing and the decline in production in these states has greatly lowered domestic cereal supply. The CSFSAM estimates that production was above average in Warrap and Northern Bahr el Ghazal, but these areas are structurally deficit-producing and even above-average production does not meet the states’ cereal requirements.

    Maize and sorghum imports from Uganda in the fourth quarter of 2016 were 23 percent higher than last year and 26 percent higher than the fourth quarter three-year average. The increase is driven primarily by extremely high staple food prices in South Sudan that provide high returns to traders, incentivizing exports. Furthermore, the Nimule-Juba road is functional, despite intermittent attacks along the route, allowing for near-normal trade flows from Uganda to Juba. Imports from Sudan in the fourth quarter of 2016 were nearly double the fourth quarter of 2015, but 41 percent lower than the three year fourth-quarter average, likely due to the erratic opening and closing of the border by Sudan across these years.

    The functioning of trade routes varies throughout the country (Figure 3). Security along the Juba-Yirol-Rumbek-Wau route has improved and trade flows are near normal. Supplies are reaching Wau and markets there are recovering. Trade flows between Aweil to Wau have also increased following the onset of the dry season, but occasional clashes are causing some disruption. Conversely, the Morobo-Yei-Maridi route is no longer passable due to high levels of insecurity in Yei and Morobo counties. This route was previously used to transport goods from Kaya of Morobo, to Yei, Maridi, and finally to Yambio, but insecurity has forced traders to re-route from Kaya, through the DRC, directly to Yambio. This has ultimately reduced food supplies in Yei and Maridi.

    Despite above-average import volumes from Uganda, staple food prices remain over ten times higher than average in most markets due to persistent depreciation of the SSP, below-average domestic production, and high transportation costs resulting from fuel shortages and conflict along trade routes. In Juba, the retail sorghum price in January 2017 was 75 SSP/kilogram (kg), a 53 percent increase from last month, 626 percent increase from last year, and 1,400 percent increase from the five-year average (Figure 4). In Wau of Western Bahr el Ghazal and Aweil of Northern Bahr el Ghazal, the price of a kg of sorghum in January was 80 SSP and 63 SSP, respectively. These prices are now 1100 percent and 1300 percent above their respective five-year averages.

    Income-earning opportunities remain extremely limited throughout the country as a result of widespread insecurity limiting movement and extremely poor macroeconomic conditions. Many businesses in Juba closed following the outbreak of fighting and some have not reopened, lowering job opportunities. For skilled labor, some employment opportunities exist in the government, private organizations, and NGOs, although salaries from the government are irregularly paid. For unskilled labor, many poor households who were relying on the collection and sale of firewood, charcoal, and grass are less frequently engaged in this activity due to risks associated with collection. Most households who had relied on breaking stones for construction have lost their jobs as the demand for construction work has drastically reduced. Many households in Juba have sent family members to refugee camps in Uganda to access food, health, and education services. Others, in an effort to earn income, are engaged in petty trade of foods. A rapid market assessment conducted by FEWS NET in Juba in February found a significant increase in the number of small retailers, the majority of whom are women selling both local and imported staple grains.

    SMART surveys conducted in December 2016 show that severe levels of acute malnutrition persisted during the post-harvest period (Figure 5). In some areas, nutrition did improve relative to the lean season, due to availability of the harvest, seasonally increasing trade flows, and reduced child morbidity. In Rubkona of Unity, a SMART survey in December 2016 found a GAM prevalence of 20.2 percent (17.1-23.6), a statistically significant improvement from the GAM prevalence of 29.2 percent (24.5-34.4) recorded in May 2016. Despite improvements, GAM prevalence remains above Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or Emergency (IPC Phase 4) thresholds in many areas, including in Northern Bahr el Ghazal. In areas affected by conflict, available evidence suggests the prevalence of malnutrition is worse. A MUAC sentinel site surveillance performed on 1,617 children under-five in several IDP locations in Leer of Unity in December 2016 found a proxy GAM of 32.4 percent, far surpassing the malnutrition threshold indicative of Famine (IPC Phase 5).

    Extreme levels of acute food insecurity persist across South Sudan, and an estimated 3.8 million people are currently in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or higher.

    In central Unity, it is likely Famine (IPC Phase 5) is ongoing in some areas. Conflict has persisted in this state for three years and many people have been displaced multiple times. In Leer, many have sought refuge on local islands, which provide relative safety from conflict. The main sources of food for these households are fish and water lilies; the availability of both are seasonally low and depleting faster than normal given the large concentration of IDPs on the islands. The conflict has prevented the delivery of assistance to Leer and Koch, and little to no emergency food assistance has been provided to these counties. Based on available MUAC sentinel site surveillance and expert opinion, it is possible a Famine (IPC Phase 5) is ongoing in Leer. In Koch, there is no county-level data available, but given its similarities to Leer, there is an increased risk of Famine (IPC Phase 5) in this county. In Mayendit, households face similar constraints to accessing sufficient food, but high levels of humanitarian assistance through January have likely prevented the further deterioration of food security and Emergency (IPC Phase 4!) outcomes are expected, although it is possible some households are in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5).

    In Western Bahr el Ghazal, conflict in 2016 displaced thousands of people in Wau and Raja counties to both Wau town and rural areas. In Raja, insecurity continues to prevent the delivery of humanitarian assistance, but most households are displaced to rural areas where they have access to wild foods, fish, and perennial crops. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are likely in this county. In Wau, production was below average and income-earning opportunities remain limited, as insecurity has restricted household movement. Many households are market dependent but face difficulty meeting their basic food needs due to extremely high food prices. Crisis (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes exist in this county with ongoing high levels of humanitarian assistance.

    In Upper Nile, Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are expected in western counties where ongoing conflict is causing new displacement. An interagency rapid needs assessment in Jikmir found that over 33,000 people were recently displaced and lost all their assets. In Canal and Fangak of Jonglei, Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes also persist due to recent displacement that has greatly reduced households’ access to normal food and income sources.

    In Northern Bahr el Ghazal, a production-deficit area, it is likely poor households have already depleted household food stocks. The relaxation of the border regulations by Sudan has led to slight increases in trade flows, allowing households to sell livestock to fund cereal purchases and access some income-earning opportunities. However, food prices are well above average and many households are facing difficulty purchasing sufficient food to meet their basic needs. This area is in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    In Warrap, production was above average, and most households had more food stocks than normal. This state is still deficit-producing, though, and most poor households likely exhausted stocks in February. Conflict has remained relatively low throughout the state since December 2013, which has allowed most households to pursue normal livelihood activities, including fishing and the collection of wild foods. Households face extremely high food prices, which is lowering household food access. While these areas are likely Stressed (IPC Phase 2) some very poor households in face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes.

    In Central Equatoria, production was below average and trade flows to most areas outside of Juba are significantly lower than normal. Lainya, Yei, and Morobo are the most significantly impacted, as ongoing conflict in these areas has led to displacement and greatly impacted livelihood activities. Yei and Morobo are in Crisis (IPC Phase 3), and in Lainya, where a high proportion of the population remains displaced without access to markets or their fields, Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are expected.

    National Assumptions

    From October 2016 to May 2017, the projected food security outcomes are based on the following national-level assumptions:

    • Conflict/Insecurity: Conflict is expected to continue in Greater Equatoria, Unity, Western Bahr el Ghazal, and Upper Nile. It is unlikely the Agreement on Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (ARCISS) will be implemented given ongoing fighting.
    • Internal displacement: As a result of the ongoing conflict, high levels of internal displacement are expected in Yei, Morobo, Kajo-Keji, Mundri, Magwi, and Torit of Greater Equatoria, Wau and Raja of Western Bahr el Ghazal, southern and central Unity, eastern Jonglei, and eastern Upper Nile. Increased displacement is most likely during the February and May dry season, when road conditions allow for easier movement, but is expected throughout the outlook period.
    • External displacement: Displacement to neighboring countries is likely to continue throughout the outlook period at or above 2,000 people a day. It is likely Uganda will continue to receive the greatest number of refugees. Outflows will slow slightly during the rainy season, which is typically associated with reduction in conflict and increased difficulty moving along roads.
    • Humanitarian access is likely to remain volatile throughout the outlook period in all areas, given the level of insecurity. In Unity State, humanitarian actors have recently gained access to Leer and beneficiaries have been reached, but it is unknown the scale of assistance that will be delivered, or if access will be granted, throughout the outlook period. Access to Koch has not yet been granted. The evacuation of many aid workers in Mayendit is likely to reduce assistance levels in this county. As a result of this uncertainty and lack of information on funding levels for planned assistance, the scenario is based on the assumption that planned, funded, and likely humanitarian assistance is insufficient to meet needs.
    • Rainfall: The March to June first rainy season in Greater Equatoria and June to September main rainy season in northern South Sudan are expected to be average. The February CPC/IRI consensus forecast indicates a higher than normal likelihood of El Niño in the third quarter of 2017, although there is currently significant uncertainty in the ENSO forecast. As El Niño is generally associated with a suppression of rainfall in Greater Equatoria, increasing the likelihood that the August to October second rainy season will be below average.
    • First season production in Greater Equatoria: Despite the forecast for average rainfall, total production is likely to be below both last year and average, due to massive population displacement out of the region. Production among poor households and IDPs who remain in South Sudan is also expected to be lower than normal as many households have depleted some assets to cope with current food insecurity and are unlikely to have the resources to cultivate average plot sizes.
    • Macro-economic situation: Oil production is likely to remain at 160,000 barrels/day given the destruction of infrastructure. This, alongside expected low global oil prices, will continue to limit oil revenue to South Sudan and, subsequently, USD earnings. The SSP will likely further depreciate against the USD and hyperinflation will persist.
    • Markets and trade: Trade flows and market supplies are expected to be erratic. Road ambushes, high fuel prices, and the shortage of USD is expected to discourage some traders, but high returns are incentivizing other risk-adverse traders.
    • Sorghum imports from Sudan are likely to increase seasonally through May above levels observed in 2016, but remain below the recent five-year average. Maize and dry bean imports from Uganda are expected to be below average through July. 
    • Staple food prices are expected to remain five to ten times higher than average across the county despite supplies from Uganda and domestic production. Prices are also expected to remain above the already extremely high prices seen in the first half of 2016.
    • Wild foods: Availability and access to water lilies will be seasonally low through May, but will increase from June through September alongside the rainy season. Lalob and nabag will be available from January through March. Green leafy wild vegetables are expected to available from May through September.
    • Availability and access to livestock products: Most poor households have some remaining livestock, with the exception of poor households in Unity State, who have few to no livestock. Households will have access to some meat and milk during the rainy season when livestock return near homesteads. Distress sales of the livestock are likely during the May to July peak lean season.
    • Income: Household collection of firewood and grass for sale is expected to remain very low compared to a normal year due to ongoing insecurity that restricts typical household movement to areas where these products are readily available.
    • Fishing: Access to fish will continue to be seasonally low through May as most poor households do not own equipment to fish from deep waters. The availability of fish is expected to increase from June through September with typical flooding.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    From February to May, food security is expected to deteriorate across the country, as most poor households have depleted their food stocks and the availability of fish will seasonally decline. Poor households will be primarily reliant on markets to access food, but will face significant difficulty purchasing sufficient food to meet their basic food needs, as prices are expected to continue rising and income-earning opportunities are limited. Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are expected in Western Bahr el Ghazal, Upper Nile, Jonglei, and Unity. In the absence of humanitarian assistance, Famine (IPC Phase 5) is possible in Leer, Koch, and Mayendit.

    Food insecurity is expected to be most severe in June and July, at the peak of the lean season. In the absence of humanitarian assistance, Famine (IPC Phase 5) is expected in Leer, Koch, and Mayendit. In Panyijiar, it is expected that many food insecure households from Leer, Koch, and Mayendit will move to this county in search of assistance, and in the absence of humanitarian assistance, Panyijiar is also likely to be in Famine (IPC Phase 5) during the peak of the lean season, when the availability of wild foods and fish are seasonally low. Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are likely in Northern Bahr el Ghazal, Western Bahr el Ghazal, Jonglei, Upper Nile, and Lainya of Central Equatoria. Households face an increased risk for high levels of acute malnutrition and excess mortality.

    Some improvements in food security are expected following the arrival of the July first season harvest in Greater Equatoria and green harvest in August in northern areas of the country and as the availability of fish and wild foods increases during this time.  

    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.


    Figure 1

    Current food security outcomes, Unity State

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 2

    Evidence available in Unity State, November 2016-February 2017

    Source: FSNMS Round 19

    Figure 3

    Current food security outcomes, February 2017

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 4

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 5

    Figure 1. Conflict density, July 2016-February 2017

    Source: FEWS NET map based on ACLED data

    Figure 6

    Figure 2. Internal and external displacement, December 2013 - January 2017

    Source: FEWS NET map based on UNHCR data

    Figure 7

    Figure 3. Market and trade functioning, February 2017

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 8

    Figure 4. Retail price of white sorghum compared to unofficial exchange rate

    Source: FEWS NET graph based on WFP data

    Figure 9

    Figure 5. Results from SMART surveys, December 2016

    Source: Data from South Sudan Nutrition Information Working Group

    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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