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Extreme food insecurity persists despite the influx of humanitarian assistance

  • Food Security Outlook
  • South Sudan
  • June 2017 - January 2018
Extreme food insecurity persists despite the influx of humanitarian assistance

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  • Key Messages
  • Humanitarian assistance mitigating more extreme food security outcomes, but Emergency (IPC Phase 4) persists
  • Key Messages
    • Wide-spread, extreme food insecurity persists throughout South Sudan and increased humanitarian assistance is needed to prevent the loss of lives and livelihoods. The area of greatest concern is central Unity, where Emergency (IPC Phase 4) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes are present. However, data is unavailable for an estimated 10,000 people isolated on remote islands of the White Nile, many of whom lack access to humanitarian assistance. It is feared outcomes are worse among these populations and some households may be in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5). A risk of Famine (IPC Phase 5) persists, primarily for populations on remote islands of the White Nile.  

    • Recent food security data and key informant information indicate that food security in northern and western Jonglei has deteriorated sharply in 2017. Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes persists and of highest concern are households in western Jonglei who are also displaced to islands along the White Nile. Some of these households may be in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5). Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes, and associated high levels of acute malnutrition, also exist in Northern Bahr el Ghazal, Western Bahr el Ghazal, Upper Nile, Central Equatoria, and Eastern Equatoria.

    • Food security is expected to improve in September with increased access to milk, fish, water lilies, and harvests. However, likely below-average production and extremely high food prices will limit household food access. Furthermore, disease incidence is very high, with nearly 5,000 cases of cholera reported in 23 counties since January. Food security improvements will be short-lived and wide-spread Crisis (IPC Phase 3) is still expected during this time. Further deterioration in food security is expected after January 2018 when households deplete food stocks and the availability of wild foods and fish seasonally decline. 

    Humanitarian assistance mitigating more extreme food security outcomes, but Emergency (IPC Phase 4) persists

    While key information gaps exist, available evidence indicates Famine (IPC Phase 5) is not ongoing, but food security outcomes remain severe and a risk of Famine (IPC Phase 5) persists

    In February 2017, the South Sudan IPC Technical Working Group declared Famine (IPC Phase 5) was likely ongoing in Leer, likely in Mayendit between February and July, and possible in Koch. While there was a lack of sufficient data to meet IPC protocols, the declaration was based on the professional judgment of the Global IPC Emergency Review Committee, given information that was available at the time.

    Since February/March, large-scale humanitarian assistance has been delivered in all three counties. The impact of humanitarian assistance is difficult to gauge given frequent population movement, but based on the most recent population figures available, it is estimated that assistance has reached approximately 50 percent of the total population of these counties each month between March and May 2017.

    In March and April, efforts were undertaken to collect representative data on food consumption, malnutrition, and mortality, all of which are needed to determine if Famine (IPC Phase 5) is ongoing according to IPC protocols. These data were collected in Leer, and in Panyijiar, a county to which many from central Unity had fled. Data were not collected in Mayendit, and in Koch the food consumption data was given a low reliability for IPC analysis.

    Available data (Figure 1) indicates that a Famine (IPC Phase 5) is not occurring in central Unity. Household Hunger Scale (HHS) is indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3) across counties. Food Consumption Score (FCS), and Household Dietary Diversity Score (HDDS) in Leer, indicate higher phases, possibly due to the high proportion of people heavily reliant on a non-diversified food ration. GAM (WHZ) points to Emergency (IPC Phase 4) and non-trauma Crude Death Rates (CDR) pointed to Minimal (IPC Phase 1) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes.

    In addition to central Unity, northern Jonglei is also of great concern. Results from GAM (MUAC) nutrition screenings conducted in April in Ayod indicate extreme outcomes experienced by screened populations, likely aggravated by the cholera outbreak. The highest proportion, 48.1 percent among 5,153 children screened, was recorded in Karmoun payam. Though not representative, these data are very concerning.

    Although available evidence indicates Famine (IPC Phase 5) is not ongoing, food insecurity remains severe, and there are some areas for which data is unavailable. Most notably, the SMART survey in Leer only covered areas south of Adok road and did not include the estimated 10,000 people residing on far eastern islands. In eastern Unity and western Jonglei there are populations who lack access to assistance (Figure 2). Outcomes in these more isolated areas are feared to be worse.


    Current Situation

    Conflict remains the key driver of food insecurity in South Sudan (Figure 3), causing massive internal and external displacement, preventing households from engaging in typical livelihood activities, restricting the economy by lowering the capacity for oil extraction, and disrupting markets and trade routes. As a result, income-earning opportunities are limited and the Government’s USD earnings remain very low, which has led to hyperinflation. Household food access remains extremely low and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes exist in all regions during the ongoing lean season.

    An estimated two million people remain internally displaced in South Sudan, many of whom have been displaced more than once. In Upper Nile in May, fighting between Government forces and armed opposition in Manyo and Fashoda displaced many from Tonga and Wau Shilluk to Aburoc. In Manyo, an estimated 30,000 people were recently displaced and reportedly lost all assets while fleeing. Armed clashes have also recently displaced people and disrupted livelihood activities in Panyikang, Fashoda, and parts of Renk. In Western Bahr el Ghazal, localized insecurity and clashes are limiting movement to engage in normal livelihood activities and the recovery of the Wau market. In Jonglei, armed clashes in Uror in mid-February displaced an estimated 50,000-70,000 people to Pierri, parts of Motot, and Waat. In Aweil East of Northern Bahr el Ghazal, a state previously relatively free of conflict, an armed group staged an attack in June that disrupted trade flows to Warawar and Wanjok markets.

    Over 1.8 million people have fled South Sudan to neighboring countries since December 2013. The refugee population has increased significantly, by one million, since July 2016, when conflict spread to Greater Equatoria. The majority of refugees, over 950,000, are residing in Uganda. The daily rate of arrival to Uganda is approximately 2,000 people per day. Over 319,000 refugees from South Sudan are now in Ethiopia, and nearly 400,000 are in Sudan (Figure 4).

    Macroeconomic conditions, which have been very poor since the outbreak of conflict in 2013, have only further deteriorated with the spread of conflict to Greater Equatoria in mid-2016. Oil production, South Sudan’s primary export, is around 130,000 barrels per day, down from 160,000 barrels per day in early 2017, due to fighting in the vicinity of Paloich where the only remaining oil producing wells are located. Furthermore, the global price for crude oil decreased from 55.47 USD/barrel in February 2017 to 46.25 USD per barrel in June 2017. The combination of lower production and a lower global price per barrel has further decreased the Government’s revenue, driving continued depreciation of the South Sudanese Pound (SSP) against the USD. The parallel exchange rate in June 2017 stands at 150 SSP/USD, compared to 47 SSP/USD in June of 2016. 

    Conflict also continues to limit trade flows and market functioning (Figure 5). Although the Nimule-Juba road is operational and military escorts maintain trade flows, sporadic road ambushes threaten trade supplies and the safety of travelers along this route. Trade flows from Rumbek to Wau are limited due to occasional clashes. Minimal or no activity is taking place along the Kaya-Yei and Nimule-Torit roads due to insecurity. The Juba-Bor route is officially closed due to insecurity, but some traders risk transporting goods along the road. Market supplies in Juba are near average, but supplies in most other markets of the country are much lower than normal. Trade to central and northern Jonglei remain very low. Of major concern are counties of central Unity and Raja of Western Bahr el Ghazal, where markets have minimal to no supplies.

    In addition to disrupting the flow of imported goods, conflict continues to limit domestic food production. The June/July first season harvest in Greater Equatoria is ongoing and production is expected to be well below average at the household level and at the regional level given massive displacement to Uganda. In Greater Upper Nile and Greater Bahr el Ghazal, the start of the June to September main rainy season has been average to above average, but planting is likely below normal, and similar to last year. Notable disruptions to planting were observed in Uror and Nyirol of Jonglei and Fashoda, Panyikang, and Manyo of Upper Nile where thousands have been recently displaced.

    Staple food prices continue to rise due to the combination of depreciation of the SSP, high transportation costs, poor domestic production in 2016, and conflict-related disruptions to trade (Figure 6). In May, the retail price of a kilogram of sorghum was 88.57 SSP in Juba, 343 percent above last year and over 10 times the five-year average. In both Aweil and Wau, the price of a kilogram of sorghum is over 200 percent above last year and seven times the five-year average. Over the same time, the wage rate for casual labor has remained largely stagnant, between 100 and 200 SSP. A day’s labor currently purchases 2.4 kilograms of sorghum in Juba, significantly lower than the five year average of 6 kilograms.

    Additionally, levels of acute malnutrition remains very high due to low food consumption and limited access to adequate health services. SMART surveys conducted between March and May in Leer, Panyijiar, Duk, Ulang, and Awerial showed ‘Critical’ levels of acute malnutrition (GAM (WHZ)>15%). In Tonj East, a SMART survey in March found a GAM (WHZ) prevalence of 13.1 percent (10.5-16), a ‘Serious’ level of acute malnutrition. Disease incidence is also very high: nearly 5,000 cases of cholera in 23 counties, resulting in 163 deaths, have been reported since January.

    Households face significant constraints to meeting their basic food needs. Prices remain extremely high and, with limited income, most households are unable to purchase sufficient food from markets. Conflict has also prevented many households from engaging in typical livelihood activities, such as farming, lowering food available through own production. Households throughout the country are facing food consumption gaps. Humanitarian assistance has mitigated more extreme outcomes, most notably between March and May in areas of Unity, Upper Nile, Northern Bahr el Ghazal, and Western Bahr el Ghazal. However, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) still persist in all states and the IPC estimates that 6 million people are in need of emergency humanitarian assistance. In counties where Emergency (IPC Phase 4) exists, associated high levels of acute malnutrition are observed.  


    The June 2017 to January 2018 most likely scenario is based on the following national-level assumptions:

    • For the purpose of this scenario, it is assumed sporadic clashes and fighting is possible throughout the outlook period, in all regions, between Government forces and armed opposition and between various armed groups. Interethnic conflict is also likely in Lakes, Warrap, and Jonglei given rising tensions in these states.
    • Based on past conflict and displacement levels, it is estimated around 200,000 to 300,000 additional people will be internally displaced during the outlook period. Displacement is expected to be highest between November and January when conflict is likely to escalate alongside the dry season.
    • Further displacement from Greater Equatoria, Western Bahr el Ghazal, Upper Nile, and Jonglei to neighboring countries is also expected. Over 380,000 people have fled South Sudan in the first half of 2017 and a similar number of people are expected to flee the country between July 2017 and January 2018.
    • The June to August first season and November to December second season harvests in Greater Equatoria and the October to January main harvest in northern regions are all expected to be below average. In Central and Eastern Equatoria, production is likely to be even lower than 2016, a year of significantly below-average production, given further massive displacement out of the region. In Warrap, where recent field reports indicate the area under cultivation has increased, average to above average production is likely.
    • Trade flows are expected to seasonally decline during the June to September main rainy season, when roads become impassible in many areas. In addition, trade flows to Juba, and to a larger extend internal trade originating from Juba, will remain volatile throughout the outlook period given sporadic attacks along trade routes.
    • Government revenue is likely to remain very low due to reduced oil production and the low global oil price. The South Sudan Pound has been relatively stable, but high, in recent months, but is expected to further depreciate during the outlook period, constraining the ability to import foods and deliver services. Furthermore, the likelihood of the Government lifting business fuel subsidies will further increase the cost of transportation and, subsequently, food prices.  
    • Given the expectation of a second consecutive year of poor production in Greater Equatoria, which typically supplies many areas of South Sudan, the demand for imports will remain high, and likely higher than last year. As a result of constant depreciation of the SSP and expected volatile trade flows, staple food prices are expected to remain well above last year and upwards of ten times above the five-year average across the country.
    • WFP plans to distribute emergency food assistance to an average of 2.6 million beneficiaries a month, approximately 50 percent of the estimated need, between July and December. Given the high number of targeted beneficiaries and consistent access in southern and northern Unity, Wau, Fashoda, Malakal, and Melut, it is expected assistance will continue to reach a large proportion of the need in these areas through at least September. In many other areas of the country, although assistance is planned, possible access issues threaten consistent delivery.
    • The prevalence of Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) is expected to further increase through July, the peak of the lean season, particularly in Unity, Upper Nile, and Jonglei, due to increased infectious diseases, low food consumption, and limited access to health and nutrition services. Levels of malnutrition are expected to decline from August to January, as access to cereals, fish, and wild foods increases, but remain at ‘Critical’ (GAM(WHZ)>15%) levels in many areas. 

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Extreme levels of acute food insecurity are expected and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) will persist through the July/early August peak of the lean season in all regions. Conflict has driven massive displacement and is expected to continue to limit household access to natural sources of food, including fish and wild foods. The daily wage rate for casual labor currently purchases under 3 kilograms of cereal in most areas of the country and, as a result, households face extreme difficulty purchasing sufficient food to meet their basic food needs. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are expected in all regions, and in Juba, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) is expected. Food security will improve somewhat in August, with the arrival of the green harvest and increased availability of fish, water lilies, and livestock products, and further in October, with the main harvest. However, given constant disruptions to production, both the bimodal and unimodal harvests are expected to be minimal in conflict-affected areas, and food security improvements will be relatively small and short-lived. In addition, severe levels of acute malnutrition and further cases of cholera are expected due to lack of adequate response to the disease outbreak. Of greatest concern is central and southern Unity, northern and western Jonglei, Western Bahr el Ghazal, Northern Bahr el Ghazal, Upper Nile, and southern counties of Central and Eastern Equatoria. A risk of Famine (IPC Phase 5) persists, primarily among populations on isolated islands along the White Nile. Improvements in food security are expected to be short-lived and deterioration in food security is expected after January 2018 after households deplete food stocks and the availability of wild foods and fish seasonally decline.

    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

    Figure 1. Recent data available in central and southern Unity State, March/April 2017

    Source: ACF, World Relief, WFP, IMC, NRC, UNICEF, WFP

    Figure 2

    Figure 2. Areas of Unity and Jonglei where populations are likely cut off from humanitarian assistance, June to October

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 3

    Current food security outcomes, June 2016

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 4

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 5

    Figure 3. Conflict density, March 1 to June 30, 2017

    Source: FEWS NET map based on ACLED data

    Figure 4. Internal and external displacement through May/June 2017

    Figure 6

    Figure 4. Internal and external displacement through May/June 2017

    Source: FEWS NET map based on UNHCR data

    Figure 7

    Figure 5. Market and trade functioning, June 2017

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 8

    Figure 6. Retail price of white sorghum compared to unofficial exchange rate

    Source: WFP data, UN Operational Rates data

    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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