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Famine Likely (IPC Phase 5) in Pibor and widespread Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes persist in 2021

  • Food Security Outlook
  • South Sudan
  • February - September 2021
Famine Likely (IPC Phase 5) in Pibor and widespread Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes persist in 2021

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  • Key Messages
  • Reports of hunger-related deaths in Pibor suggest continuation of Famine (IPC Phase 5) Likely in South Sudan
  • Events That Could Change the Outlook
  • Key Messages
    • In early 2021, acute food insecurity remains severe in South Sudan due to the long-term impacts of conflict, the 2019 and 2020 floods, and the macroeconomic crisis on household food and income sources. Based on FSNMS data collected in October and November 2020 and current evidence, food availability and income-generating activities are low in many areas and most households have continued to experience moderate to severe hunger since the conclusion of the 2020 harvest. Available evidence strongly suggests that Famine Likely (IPC Phase 5) persists in Pibor, while Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) is likely among households in multiple counties, including greater Tonj, Aweil South, and Akobo. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes also remain widespread.

    • The area of greatest concern is Pibor, where at least 20 percent of the population likely still faces extreme food consumption gaps and key informants report the use of increasingly extreme coping strategies, visible extreme wasting among young children, and hunger-related deaths. FEWS NET assesses that the consistency of anecdotal reports of non-trauma deaths combined with other available evidence supports the continued classification of Famine Likely (IPC Phase 5).[1] Despite revisions to food assistance delivery plans to target over 40 percent of the Pibor population in two-month distribution cycles, monthly distribution report data show only eight percent of the population received food assistance in January, which is inadequate to drive improvement in food security outcomes. A rapid and coordinated scale-up in the levels of food assistance and health, WASH, and nutrition assistance is critical for a Famine Likely (IPC Phase 5) response. Without a sustained scale-up, and given the large proportion of the population concurrently in Emergency (IPC Phase 4), FEWS NET anticipates that more households will deteriorate to Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5)[2] even as others succumb to hunger, and acute malnutrition and mortality will likely continue to exceed the Famine (IPC Phase 5) thresholds. As a result, FEWS NET anticipates Famine is Likely (IPC Phase 5) to persist through September.

    • Across the rest of South Sudan, Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are expected in many areas as the lean season progresses and peaks in July/August. Although humanitarian response plans indicate funded food assistance is likely to reach up to 20 percent of the national population through July, FEWS NET estimates 6 to 8 million people (50-65 percent of the population) will be in need of humanitarian food assistance monthly. In addition to Pibor, areas of highest concern include Jonglei, Warrap, Lakes, Northern Bahr el Ghazal, Unity, and Upper Nile. Given current and anticipated high levels of food insecurity, a risk of Famine (IPC Phase 5) will persist in other areas of South Sudan, as Famine (IPC Phase 5) could occur if an additional shock were to isolate households from food sources for a prolonged time.

    • [1] Famine (IPC Phase 5) and Famine Likely (IPC Phase 5) classifications are used to describe the same conditions. The classification Famine Likely (IPC Phase 5) signifies that while information is insufficient to confirm or deny whether all three thresholds that define a Famine declaration have been met, available evidence suggests two of the three thresholds have been surpassed and that Famine is likely ongoing.

    • [2] The IPC classifies acute food insecurity at the household level and area level. At the household level, Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) occurs when a household group has an extreme lack of food and/or other basic needs even after full employment of coping strategies. At the area level, Famine (IPC Phase 5) occurs when at least 20 percent of the households in a given area have an extreme lack of food; the Global Acute Malnutrition prevalence, as measured 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.

    Reports of hunger-related deaths in Pibor suggest continuation of Famine (IPC Phase 5) Likely in South Sudan

    Three months after it was determined that Famine was Likely (IPC Phase 5) in Pibor, key informant and focus group information collected in Pibor in February strongly suggest that the Famine Likely (IPC Phase 5) is still ongoing. Despite relatively low levels of conflict and a relative scale-up in food assistance delivery in 2021, a significant proportion of the population continues to experience extreme food consumption gaps and exhaustion of livelihoods coping strategies. Numerous ground reports indicate children, the elderly, and other vulnerable groups are foregoing food or being left behind to allow able-bodied household members to collect food for dependents, a sign of dire conditions. According to key informants, there are visible signs of extreme wasting outside of main towns and consistent, anecdotal reports of hunger-related deaths in Lekuangole, Gumuruk, Verteth, and Pibor payams. Given the scale of need and severity of food deficits and acute malnutrition, an increase in hunger-related deaths is likely to occur unless a large-scale, rapid, and well-coordinated humanitarian response provides not only urgent food assistance but also basic health, WASH, and nutrition services.

    Based on field information, food sources and income-generating activities have declined even further since October/November 2020, when FSNMS R26 data revealed that over 45 percent of the population had a severe Household Hunger Score and the average Food Consumption Score had been cut in half since August 2019. Households are reportedly resorting to consuming wild foods that are known to cause diarrhea and hides of deceased cattle that have died from disease or starvation. Although representative data has not been collected on Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) since October, and data on excess mortality remains unavailable, JAM staff observed that new admissions of both severe and moderate acute malnutrition cases at their nutrition services sites in Lekuangole, Gumuruk, Pibor, and Verteth payams doubled between December and February. Multiple key informants and local authorities have reported starvation-related deaths in Lekuangole, Verteth, and Gumuruk payams between November and February. While the reported deaths are anecdotal, the consistency and widespread nature of these reports is without recent precedent in Pibor. Reports of non-trauma deaths combined with other available evidence support the continued classification of Famine Likely (IPC Phase 5).

    Without an immediate and sustained scale-up in humanitarian assistance, FEWS NET anticipates Famine Likely (IPC Phase 5) will continue in Pibor through September. The collapse of livestock production, lack of income sources and functioning markets, and high likelihood of a third consecutive year of flooding suggest little to no improvement in food availability and access during the upcoming rainfall season. With an estimated 90 percent of the Pibor population facing moderate to extreme food consumption gaps – including at least 20 percent with extreme hunger – and Extremely Critical levels of GAM (≥ 30 percent) likely, currently observed levels of food and non-food assistance are insufficient to cover the level of need or drive improvement in food security, acute malnutrition, or mortality outcomes. According to monthly WFP distribution reports, only 14-29 percent of the population in need has received assistance on a monthly basis since November under a plan that targets 93,000 individuals every two months (Figure 1). While food assistance is reportedly delivered in the main towns of each western payam, there is very high concern that some of the worst-off households are unable to access this assistance due to the loss of biometric identification due to conflict, floods, and displacement in 2020, diversion of food aid by local level leaders, localized insecurity, and localized, residual flood waters.

    Outside of Famine Likely (IPC Phase 5) in Pibor, there is high concern for widespread Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes across the country and pockets of Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5), especially in greater Tonj, Aweil South, and Akobo counties. Nationally, FEWS NET estimates up to 8 million people – more than 60 percent of the population – needs urgent food assistance during the May to August peak of the 2021 lean season. Although humanitarian response plans indicate funded food assistance is likely to reach up to 20 percent of the national population during this period, a sizeable gap remains. Past FSNMS trends show that Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) could occur in additional areas due to the scarcity of food and income sources at the peak of the lean season. There is a risk that Famine (IPC Phase 5) could occur in additional areas of South Sudan if an additional shock were to isolate households from food sources for a prolonged period of time. A significant scale-up in food assistance across South Sudan, as well as guaranteed humanitarian access, is urgently needed to save lives.


    Current Situation

    Conflict and displacement: After nearly two and half years of peace deal implementation, the formation of government structures at state or local levels remains very slow despite the appointment of a governor for Upper Nile and the appointment of deputy governors across South Sudan’s ten states in late January. Conflict and insecurity continue to limit household access to food and income sources in multiple locations across the country, even as relative peace facilitates some improvements in trade and typical livelihood activities in other areas. Conflict events recorded by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) over the past six months show the main areas that continue to experience significant levels of conflict include Warrap, Lakes, Unity, Upper Nile, and parts of Central and Eastern Equatoria (Figure 2).

    Greater Tonj remains an area of high and persistent concern, where active conflict and the perceived threat of conflict continue to restrict livelihood activities and delivery of life-saving assistance. Intra-communal fighting between the Noi and Leer communities in Tonj North of Warrap in January 2021 resulted in the loss of lives, significant disruptions to trade flows, and displacement of more than 25,000 people to Gogrial East county of Warrap. Key informants and the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (RRC) in Gogrial East report 7,004, 7,900, and 10,494 displaced persons in Luonyaker, Majak Tiit, and Mayom Biong in January, who are currently depending on wild leaves, assistance from relatives, begging, and selling of firewood and water in the Luonyaker market. Another round of intercommunal attacks by Leer and Ruel-bet youths claimed more lives and displaced hundreds of persons in February. Similarly, renewed inter-communal fighting in Tonj South between the Apuk Jurwiir, Yar Ayiey, and Thony communities in early February over land ownership and watering points in swampy areas of River Tonj resulted in the loss of lives and injuries. Tonj East also continues to experience significant insecurity and road ambushes, suspending food assistance delivery and disrupting trade flows and market recovery. Armed youth in Romic and the Luachjang and Thiik communities have conducted several ambushes that disrupted trade flows to Romic and delivery of food assistance.

    Conflict and insecurity also continue to periodically disrupt trade flows and limit market functioning, restrict livelihood activities, and impede assistance delivery in Upper Nile, Lakes, and Jonglei states. Armed clashes in Maban of Upper Nile in early January resulted in the loss of lives and displaced 15,398 people. In Lakes, revenge attacks and cattle raids carried out in Cueibet, Rumbek Center, and Yirol West in early January were marked by the looting of more than 70 herds of cattle and displacement of hundreds of persons. Similar incidences of armed youth and cattle raiding were reported in Paloich area of Melut county and Akoka county of Upper Nile and in Bor South of Jonglei state in January, leading to the displacement of 1,000 people and destruction of household assets.

    Recently, ground reports and REACH cross-border port monitoring data indicate a notable increase in the outflow of populations to Gambella region of Ethiopia and registration of populations seeking refugee status in Ethiopia, specifically at the Pagak and Akobo crossing points. While multiple drivers are likely, food insecurity is reportedly one of the factors behind individuals’ decisions to leave South Sudan. It is possible that out-migration is being used as an emergency livelihood coping strategy following the impact of protracted conflict and other compounding shocks on household food and income.

    Rainfall performance: In February, all livelihood zones in South Sudan are seasonally dry. However, severe flooding across South Sudan in 2020 affected an estimated 1,042,000 people, including 480,000 displaced, many of whom are still residing at displacement sites. Additionally, significant flooding in January along the Nile River in Panyijiar of Unity, as well as persistently high floodwaters in Duk and Twic East of Jonglei, are limiting livelihood activities and delivery of food assistance in these areas. Flood-affected households continue to be among those most likely to face large to extreme food consumption gaps, due to the impact of the floods on own-produced food stocks or physical access constraints to food assistance. Of greatest concern are Jonglei state and the Greater Pibor Administrative Area, where a total of 495,000 people were affected and continue to require food and non-food assistance. In parts of Jonglei, Upper Nile, and Unity, high flood water levels continue to limit flood-response activities. However, floodwaters have completely receded in most flood-affected areas of Northern Bahr el Ghazal, Greater Upper Nile, and Greater Equatoria, facilitating improved access to seasonal fishing, hunting, and gathering activities.

    Agricultural production: Based on the preliminary results of FAO’s 2020 Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission, net national cereal production in 2020 is likely higher than 2019 and above the five-year average (Figure 3). Higher production is driven by an increase in the number of farming households and an increase in planted area, coupled with adequate rainfall during the cropping season, particularly in Greater Equatoria. However, the net increase should not detract from the significant crop losses that occurred in Unity, Upper Nile, and Jonglei due to heavy rainfall and severe flooding events, as well as localized dry spells and conflict. Data from FSNMS R26 confirms that food production continues to be affected by many challenges, including floods or inter-communal violence that either prevented or limited cultivation in multiple locations. As a result, many households in flood- and conflict-affected states are already finishing their own-produced food stocks from the 2020 harvest as of January and February, especially in Greater Upper Nile and most of Greater Bahr el Ghazal.

    Livestock production: Following large-scale livestock losses in some of the worst flood- and conflict-affected areas in 2019 and 2020, field information indicates that livestock body conditions are generally poor in parts of Upper Nile, most of Jonglei, and Leer and Mayendit of Unity given poor quality pasture and high waterborne disease incidence. Elsewhere, livestock body conditions are reportedly fairly good, and floodwaters or localized swampy areas offer adequate access to water for livestock. However, in greater Tonj of Warrap, households are moving their livestock to other areas of Warrap, Western Equatoria, and Western Bahr el Ghazal in search of water and pasture and to avoid the risk of insecurity or cattle raiding. As of February, FAO and partners report vaccinations of 318,945 livestock and treatment of 51,039 livestock in areas of highest concern for acute food insecurity, including Pibor, Akobo, and greater Tonj. However, suspected cases of Rift Valley Fever are reported in Yirol of Lakes, and other areas of high risk include Jonglei, Unity, Central Equatoria, and Eastern Equatoria.

    Macroeconomic conditions: Macroeconomic conditions generally remain very poor amid limited foreign exchange reserves and the global economic slowdown, which are contributing to falling household purchasing power, declining private consumption, and rising poverty levels. The government of South Sudan continues to face difficulty increasing non-oil revenues, although it secured loans and grants of at least $88 million in October and 14 million USD in early February. Available estimates of oil exports indicate that South Sudan earning only $30 million per month in late 2020 compared to $900 million per month in 2011, associated with low oil production, low global crude oil prices, and the impact of COVID-19 procedures that increased the costs and time of transporting materials and equipment. As a result, the gap between foreign currency demand and supply continues to drive depreciation of the SSP on the parallel exchange rate market, which fell from 300 SSP per USD in mid-January 2020 to 600 SSP per USD in mid-January 2021.

    Markets and trade: Staple food prices remain exorbitantly high across key reference markets, driven by deficits in local production, import dependence, the effects of the Sudanese export ban that has been in place since June 2020 on import flows, and import-induced inflation. Based on market price data collected in January available on the Crop and Livestock Market Information System (CLiMIS), the retail price of a malwa (3.5 kg) of white sorghum ranged from 75 to 250 percent above January 2020 and 175-360 percent above the five-year average in Rumbek, Torit, Wau, Aweil, and Juba. Seasonal trends are slightly more varied, with the price remaining stable from December to January in Juba, Rumbek, and Torit, given recent local harvests and relatively better market and trade route activity in these areas (Figure 4). However, monthly price increases of 8 to 17 percent were recorded in Aweil and Wau, where higher import costs attributed to the Sudanese export ban coupled with low local supply are driving up food prices. While price data is not regularly collected in markets with limited to no market functioning, ground information indicates prices are similarly very high, and food availability is limited. Although the number of kilograms (kg) of sorghum to daily wage labor in January 2021 remained similar to December 2020 at 6-9 kg per daily wage, the terms of trade have declined by 25-50 percent in Juba, Torit, Aweil, and Wau compared to last year.

    Humanitarian food assistance: The delivery of humanitarian food assistance remains far below the level of need across much of the country. According to final WFP distribution reports, humanitarian actors reached only 8 percent of the total population in January, covering 80 percent of their daily kilocalorie needs, which is similar to the three-month average for November 2020-January 2021. A similar trend is observed across six counties prioritized for the food assistance response, where the three-month average ranges from less than 5 percent in Tonj East and Tonj North and from 9 to 17 percent in Pibor, Tonj South, Akobo, and Aweil South. In each of these counties, the estimated proportion of the population requiring food assistance exceeds 55 percent of the county population. Resource and delivery constraints persist, including the high cost of air deliveries to inaccessible areas affected by conflict and residual floodwaters. In Pibor, key informant information indicates that although food assistance is being delivered to main towns, some households who are far from distribution sites or have lost their biometric registration cards are not accessing assistance. A noticeable gap in basic health, nutrition, and WASH also remains present. Conflict and insecurity also continue to limit the delivery of food assistance in Tonj East and Tonj North, where only 3-10 percent of the county population were reached in January. In early February, a humanitarian convoy of six trucks traveling to a displacement site in Luachjang area was ambushed in Tonj East and looted by armed youths.

    Current outcomes

    Based on FSNMS R26 data collected in late 2020 and recent updates on contributing factors to food insecurity, it is FEWS NET’s assessment that severe to extreme food security outcomes persist across much of South Sudan. Conditions remain indicative of Famine Likely (IPC Phase 5) in Pibor, while Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes with households in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) remain likely in Tonj North, Tonj East, Tonj South of Warrap; Aweil South of Northern Bahr el Ghazal; and Akobo of Jonglei. Compounding conflict, weather, and economic shocks continue to restrict the availability of and access to food and income sources for most households, with deep cereal production deficits in crop and flood-affected areas, exorbitantly high staple food prices in key reference markets, and few income-generating activities. Despite ongoing efforts to scale-up in food and non-food assistance, resources for humanitarian assistance are being stretched too thin to prevent severe to extreme outcomes. In February, 24 counties are assessed to be in Emergency (IPC Phase 4).

    Of greatest concern is Pibor, where at least 20 percent of the county population is experiencing extreme food consumption gaps, and anecdotal ground reports indicate extreme wasting among young children and the occurrence of hunger-related deaths. Food and income sources remain scarce, and household access to the few available food sources continues to be periodically disrupted by localized insecurity and the remnants of floodwaters in deep valleys along the Pibor-Verteth road, limiting trade and access to food assistance. With only 8-16 percent of the county population reportedly receiving food assistance in January and February and based on double-distributions of 15-day rations, food assistance is inadequate to drive notable improvement in food security outcomes among a significant proportion of the population in Pibor.

    In greater Tonj counties of Warrap, conflict, and insecurity continue to cause high displacement and restrict livelihood activities, which continue to limit household food access. It is likely that a significant proportion of the population is still experiencing food consumption gaps indicative of Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) – especially in Tonj North – amid area-level Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes. FSNMS R26 data indicated 15-25 percent of households in greater Tonj were experiencing severe household hunger, while 35-41 percent of households in Tonj East and Tonj South reported a poor Food Consumption Score. The impact of recent violence and related displacement, on top of widespread crop and livestock losses in 2020, is likely sustaining similar outcomes. Although food assistance reached 40 percent of the population in Tonj South in January, little to no assistance has been delivered to Tonj East due to access constraints, and only 10 percent of the population has received assistance in Tonj North.

    In Aweil South of Northern Bahr el Ghazal, it is likely that the depletion of own-produced food stocks among poor households, reduction in income-generating activities due to the economic crisis, and exorbitant food prices are sustaining Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes. FSNMS R26 data indicated 38 percent of households were experiencing severe household hunger in late 2020, while 56 percent had a poor Food Consumption Score. While the delayed harvest – which occurred after FSNMS R26 data collection – likely temporarily mitigated the severity of household food consumption gaps, Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) is likely among households who have since depleted their stocks, do not own livestock, have a higher reliance on casual labor or hunting/gathering, lack an able-bodied household member who could collect this food, and are unable to access food assistance. Only 10 percent of the population received food assistance in January, compared to 15 percent of the population in December.

    In Akobo of Jonglei, where some households were in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) in October/November 2020, it is possible that recent food assistance deliveries may be mitigating the severity of food consumption gaps among the population. Based on the latest food assistance distribution reports, nearly 20 percent of the population received food assistance in January, and preliminary data suggests over 30 percent received food assistance in February. Additionally, given their proximity to wetlands and receding floodwaters, households have greater access to fish, wild foods, and game, and household and livestock movement are somewhat better compared to October/November 2020, when flooding was still significant. However, Emergency (IPC Phase 4) remains likely, and it is possible that some households with few productive assets and a high reliance on food assistance are at risk of rapid deterioration to Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) in between food distributions, based on the recurrence of populations in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) since late 2019. Additionally, the scale of food assistance is still below the total level of need, which is estimated to be 85 percent of the county population.

    Expert analysis of historical GAM WHZ prevalence and trends in admissions for treatment of moderate (MAM) or severe (SAM) acute malnutrition indicates a worsening situation across the country due to declining food access and gaps in access to health, WASH, and nutrition services. According to the IPC Acute Malnutrition analysis in November 2020, more than fifty counties likely have ‘Serious’ (GAM WHZ 10.0-14.9 percent) or ‘Critical’ (GAM WHZ 15-29.9 percent) levels of acute malnutrition. In Pibor, reports of extreme wasting among children suggest that Extremely Critical (GAM WHZ >30 percent) levels of acute malnutrition persist, following an analysis of exhaustive global acute malnutrition screening data using Middle Upper Arm Circumference collected by JAM in October/November 2020 against historical GAM WHZ trends. In Ayod, Duk, Twic East, Bor South, and Aweil South counties, Critical levels of acute malnutrition are likely, which is consistent with past trends. In greater Tonj counties, analysis of past trends in SAM and MAM admission and seasonal nutrition data, corroborated by information on causal factors, indicates typical ‘Serious’ levels (GAM WHZ 10-14.9 percent) of acute malnutrition. UNICEF and the Ministry of Health plan to carry out a SMART survey to collect Global Acute Malnutrition data in Pibor, greater Tonj, Aweil South, and Akobo to assess the acute malnutrition situation in these counties in March 2021.

    National Assumptions

     The most likely scenario from February to September 2021 is based on the following national-level assumptions:

    • Based on past trends, an uptick in conflict events is likely through the end of the January to April/May dry season, followed by a relative decline during the June to September main rainy season. There is a high likelihood of retaliatory attacks in areas that experienced high levels of inter-communal violence in 2020, especially in Jonglei and Pibor, the Warrap-Lakes border region, and Unity. In Pibor, Warrap, and Lakes, a status quo in the level of conflict is expected relative to late 2020/early 2021, underpinned by slow peace deal implementation, power vacuums at the local level, disarmament campaigns, and inter-communal dynamics. In Jonglei and Unity, an increase in violence is expected following the defection of the Lou Nuer from the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO). Additionally, political conflict in Central and Western Equatoria is expected to persist at levels similar to last year.
    • Based on the likelihood of La Niña conditions and informed by the NOAA/CPC NMME, ECMWF C3S, and WMO ensemble model forecasts, cumulative rainfall during the March to June bimodal rainfall season and the main June to September rainfall season is most likely to be above average. Forecasts also call for an early to timely onset of the bimodal rainfall season in March. Based on the rainfall forecast and above-normal river water levels (Figure 5), it is likely that seasonal flooding in low-lying, flood-prone areas will be similar to 2019 and 2020.
    • Available economic projections by the IMF indicate that real GDP in South Sudan is expected to contract by 2.3 percent in 2021, driven by declining exports and high import dependence, an anticipated annual inflation rate of 33.1 percent, and declining private consumption. The SSP is expected to depreciate, with the parallel exchange rate ranging from 500 to 660 SSP/USD, according to FEWS NET’s projections. Despite recent efforts to increase non-oil revenues and access international loans and grants to settle internal debts, pay public sector salaries, and stabilize foreign exchange reserves, South Sudan’s economic recovery will continue to be impeded by low oil production, low global crude oil prices, the COVID-19 pandemic, conflict, and large-scale flood events.
    • Preventive measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 will likely continue to have some effects on urban households and humanitarian operations. In general, urban households rely more heavily on labor demand, petty trade, imported food, and other sources that are more affected by the economic slowdown. Meanwhile, humanitarian operations are adapting to the financial and time costs associated with minimizing the risk of exposure to beneficiaries and personnel.
    • Based on UNHCR’s spontaneous refugee monitoring data, states that are most likely to receive significant refugee returnees to either their places of origin or internal displacement sites include Eastern Equatoria, Central Equatoria, Unity, and Jonglei. Assistance needs in areas receiving refugee or IDP returnees are likely to increase.
    • Based on FEWS NET’s quarterly monitoring data on cross-border trade flows in the third and fourth quarters of 2020, food commodity imports from Uganda via Nimule or Kaya border points will most likely recover relative to volumes observed in 2020 and the five-year average. However, imports from Sudan will remain at levels similar to or lower than 2020 due to the anticipated extension of the existing export ban (June 2020 – present) and periodic insecurity in border regions. Although the supply of food commodity imports will continue to be negatively affected by procedures aimed at mitigating COVID-19 at border entry points, the depreciation of the SSP, and impacts of conflict and heavy rain on trade routes and transportation costs, import demand is high given the national cereal deficit and relative improvements in trade routes and market functionality since the signing of the 2018 peace deal.
    • Despite the anticipated increase in total food commodity imports in 2021 and seasonal improvement in domestic trade flows during the February-May dry season, trade flows between major market hubs (e.g., Juba and Wau) and other areas are expected to remain below normal. Domestic trade will continue to be impeded by the higher costs imposed by COVID-19 preventive measures, localized conflict and insecurity, heavy rain and floods during the rainy seasons, and inadequate physical road infrastructure, especially in parts of Greater Upper Nile and Greater Bahr el Ghazal. Further, insufficient access to cash among rural households in conflict- and flood-affected areas can reinforce local market supply shortages and high cereal prices, as market demand is insufficient for traders to invest in supplying these areas.
    • The national cereal deficit, import-induced inflation, and high costs of transporting food to conflict and flood-affected areas with poor infrastructure will continue to drive high food commodity prices in most reference markets from February through September 2021. Based on FEWS NET’s integrated price analysis, the retail price of white sorghum is projected to range from 30 to 210 percent above the same period of 2020 and 115-310 percent above the five-year average in the main key reference markets of Wau, Bor South, Juba, and Aweil. The price per kilogram is projected to peak at the height of the lean season between April and September, when market stocks are lowest and market dependence is highest. Market functioning will vary seasonally but will remain below normal in general.
    • In bimodal areas of Greater Equatoria, the likelihood of a timely and above-average rainfall season is expected to support favorable agricultural and livestock production conditions. Based on trends observed by the annual CFSAM, which show an increase in net cereal production since 2018, the first season harvest in June/July is likely to be similar to or higher than 2020 and the five-year average. However, some communities in localized areas of Central and Western Equatoria are likely to continue to have challenges accessing land and inputs due to localized conflict and insecurity. Similar to 2020, Fall Army Worm (FAW) and desert locust – which are likely to pass through eastern South Sudan from southwestern Ethiopia and northwestern Kenya en route to breeding areas in Sudan – are likely to cause low to moderate crop losses.
    • In unimodal areas of Greater Upper Nile and Greater Bahr el Ghazal, recent trends observed by the annual CFSAM suggest the main season harvest, which starts by September/October, will likely be similar to or slightly better than 2019 and 2020. On the one hand, the likelihood of above-average rainfall and generalized improvement in security conditions is anticipated to support an increase in planted area, particularly in parts of Greater Bahr el Ghazal. On the other hand, localized conflict and a third consecutive season of significant floods are expected to significantly disrupt cultivation and cause crop losses in areas of high concern, such as Jonglei and Pibor, Warrap, Lakes, and Upper Nile.
    • Nationally, household access to fish, game, and other wild food sources are broadly expected to follow seasonal trends; however, conflict and insecurity – especially in Jonglei and Pibor, Warrap, Lakes, and Upper Nile – and anticipated floods will most likely impede household access to these food sources at varying levels of severity. Fish availability will decline during the dry season through April/May, before rising again during the rainfall season. Wild fruit, vegetable, and game availability will remain seasonally more available and physically accessible through the dry season, particularly near perennial water sources and areas where seasonal streams are still present from the 2020 floods.
    • Nationally, household access to milk and other livestock products will be seasonally low from March to June as water and pasture availability declines during the dry season and livestock migrate to dry-season grazing areas that are distant from homesteads. From June to September, production and access will generally increase during the above-average rainfall season. However, household food and income from livestock production will remain significantly below normal in areas that suffered significant livestock losses due to conflict and floods in 2019 and 2020. Many of these same areas – such as Jonglei and Pibor, Warrap, and Lakes – are anticipated to see further reductions in livestock ownership and holdings due to anticipated conflict and insecurity, anticipated floods, and elevated disease incidence.
    • Based on available information from WFP, food assistance plans target an average of 1.2 million people monthly (10 percent of the national population) from February to March and an average of 2.4 million people monthly from April to July (20 percent of the national population). Available information from the Food Security and Livelihoods Cluster indicates that humanitarians will prioritize 10 counties with food, livelihoods, and non-food assistance delivery through July, including in Akobo, Aweil South, Pibor, greater Tonj, Ayod, Duk, Twic East, and Bor South. An increase to a 21-day (70 percent of the full monthly ration) is planned in these beginning in March. However, the 2021 prepositioning window will be shorter than normal with continued poor road conditions due to heavy floods in 2020 and the impact of COVID-19 on delivery lead times. Further, logistic constraints related to conflict, floods, and general insecurity may slow down or periodically disrupt assistance delivery, especially with the expectation of a third consecutive year of flooding. 

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    An urgent scale-up of humanitarian assistance is needed to save lives and livelihoods across South Sudan and end Famine Likely (IPC Phase 5) in Pibor. Current and planned levels of food assistance are inadequate to drive improvement from Famine Likely (IPC Phase 5) in Pibor and to prevent widespread Emergency (IPC Phase 4) in other counties. There is also high concern that a third consecutive season of flooding, in addition to periodic conflict and insecurity access constraints, will impede planned assistance delivery at the peak of the lean season in August/September. The capacity and window of time to preposition assistance are narrowing, given the stretching of limited resources for air deliveries to areas with persistent access constraints and the poor rehabilitation of road networks after the 2020 floods. While Pibor will likely remain the area of highest concern, the widespread nature of Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes and likelihood that pockets of households will be in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) renders many counties at risk of atypically high acute malnutrition and mortality outcomes. Greater Tonj, Aweil South, and Akobo are among the counties that are most likely to have pockets of households in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5); Tonj North and Tonj East are of particular concern due to the likelihood of continued inter-communal violence, displacement, and asset erosion. However, past trends suggest new conflict or weather shocks during the lean season or harvesting period could lead to Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) in other localized areas.

    From February to May, which is typically the post-harvest season but is now marked by an early start of the lean season, acute food insecurity is anticipated to steadily deteriorate. Based on FAO’s crop monitoring and FSNMS R26 data as well as FEWS NET’s monitoring, household stocks from 2020 cereal production in Greater Upper Nile and most of Greater Bahr el Ghazal are expected to be depleted in February. Food availability and access will decline as households consume the last of their own-produced crops, the availability of milk, fish, and other natural food sources reaches a seasonal low, income-generating activities remain low, and already-high staple food prices rise further. Additionally, trade and market functioning, delivery of humanitarian assistance, and household access to typical food and income sources and food assistance will continue to be periodically restricted by insecurity. The share of the national population experiencing large to extreme food consumption gaps or engaging in severe livelihoods coping is expected to steadily rise, with the most severe outcomes likely in counties that experienced the largest crop and livestock losses in 2020. Emergency (IPC Phase 4) is likely in 24 counties across South Sudan, though access to planned food assistance is anticipated to support Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) in several counties, such as in lower Unity state.

    From June to September, Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are expected to expand to 41 counties due to multiple, compounding shocks such as recurrent floods, localized conflict, and the macroeconomic crisis, and FEWS NET anticipates up to 8 million people in South Sudan will be in need of food assistance monthly. The majority of counties in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) are expected in areas that have previously been affected by floods and/or conflict and are likely to face similar shocks in 2021, including in Jonglei, Warrap, Lakes, Upper Nile, and Northern Bahr el Ghazal. The June to September period encompasses the peak of the lean season in agricultural livelihood zones, while in pastoral livelihood zones, the seasonal improvement that typically occurs during this rainy season period is expected to be minimal given high livestock losses and waterborne disease incidence. However, the improved seasonal availability of some natural food sources, the availability of the green harvest among households who plant early maturing sorghum, and humanitarian food assistance are expected to mitigate food consumption gaps in some counties, supporting Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes.

    Based on the analysis of historical GAM WHZ prevalence and trends in admissions for treatment of moderate or severe acute malnutrition, more than fifty counties are expected to have ‘Serious’ (GAM WHZ 10.0-14.9 percent) or ‘Critical’ (GAM WHZ 15-29.9 percent) levels of acute malnutrition through at least April 2021, according to IPC projections. Levels of acute malnutrition will likely further deteriorate from May through August, driven by an extended period of reduced food access and from a seasonal increase in disease prevalence during the rainy season. ‘Critical’ (GAM WHZ 15-29.9 percent) levels of acute malnutrition are most likely to be concentrated in Jonglei, Warrap, Unity, Upper Nile, and parts of Lakes, Eastern Equatoria, and Northern Bahr El Ghazal states. Of highest concern is Pibor, where the available evidence suggests acute malnutrition levels are likely to be maintained at Extremely Critical (GAM WHZ ≥30 percent) levels if health, nutrition, and WASH services, in addition to food assistance, are not scaled-up or delivered.

    Events That Could Change the Outlook
    AreaEventImpact on Food Security Outcomes

    Further economic contraction and depreciation of the SSP

    If the loss of oil revenues is greater than currently projected and the government is unable to secure additional loans, the contracting economy or its total collapse would leave much of the population unable to cope with the high cost of food and living. Massive out-migration and rising insecurity would be likely, and given already high levels of food insecurity, the additional shock would lead to more widespread Emergency (IPC Phase 4). The risk of Famine (IPC Phase 5) would increase.

    Jonglei, Lakes, Warrap, Unity

    Lower levels of intercommunal conflict and livestock raids

    Livestock production, trade flows, and market functioning, and humanitarian access would likely improve. While other shocks would continue to affect food security outcomes, improved security conditions would enable gradual improvements in food availability and access. Improvement from Emergency (IPC Phase 4) to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or Stressed (IPC Phase 2) would be possible.


    Prolonged suspension of humanitarian food assistance

    Outcomes would deteriorate significantly. Counties that are currently projected to be Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!), such as Akobo, Ayod, and Nyirol, would slide into Emergency (IPC Phase 4). Significant proportions of the county populations would likely face Catastrophic (IPC Phase 5) outcomes, given heavy dependence on food assistance. The risk of Famine (IPC Phase 5) would likely increase.


    Non-adherence to peace deal implementation, leading to an uptick in conflict

    If disagreement over key provisions stalls peace deal implementation, this could lead to a resurgence of political conflict. Conflict would increasingly restrict household movement, disrupt access to food and income sources, cause displacement, and impede assistance delivery. More widespread Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes would be likely. At-risk households, who are already facing severe outcomes, would be more likely to face Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5). Based on past trends, the risk of Famine (IPC Phase 5) would likely increase.


    Figures Map of South Sudan showing current food security outcomes, February 2021

    Figure 1

    Current food security outcomes, February 2021

    Source: FEWS NET

    Chart showing percent of Pibor population in need of urgent food assistance versus the population receiving GFD or FFA from J

    Figure 2

    Figure 1

    Source: FEWS NET analysis of monthly distribution data; (Feb 2021 is preliminary)

    Map of South Sudan showing conflict events, Sep. 2020 – Jan. 2021

    Figure 3

    Figure 2

    Source: Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project

    stacked bar chart showing net cereal crop production trends from 2014 to 2020 based on final state-level CFSAM estimates from

    Figure 4

    Figure 3

    Source: FAO Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission

    Map of South Sudan showing market functioning and trade route activity, Feb. 2020

    Figure 5

    Figure 4

    Source: FEWS NET

    line chart showing estimated water level of White Nile at Kodok, Upper Nile, South Sudan

    Figure 6

    Figure 5

    Source: Database for Hydrological Time Series of Inland Waters, University of Munich

    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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