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Extreme levels of food insecurity expected by May 2017

  • Food Security Outlook
  • South Sudan
  • October 2016 - May 2017
Extreme levels of food insecurity expected by May 2017

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Key Messages
    • Food security is expected to deteriorate to extreme levels from February to May in northern South Sudan. Of greatest concern are central and southern Unity and Northern Bahr el Ghazal. These areas have persistently been in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) and households have experienced severe food insecurity. If humanitarian assistance is limited as the lean season approaches, some households could exhaust their capacity to cope and be in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5). Improvements to humanitarian access and high levels of assistance are needed to prevent the loss of life. 

    • Analysis of satellite imagery by USGS and FEWS NET, corroborated by key informant information, gives evidence that production will be below average in most areas of the country. With reduced harvest, continued disruption of livelihoods activities, and persistent high staple food prices, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) acute food insecurity are expected to persist in most areas of the country. Households face an increased risk of high levels of acute malnutrition and elevated mortality.

    • Food security is expected to atypically worsen in Greater Equatoria despite the ongoing harvest. Over 100,000 people remain displaced in Central and Eastern Equatoria and ongoing conflict is preventing many from accessing their farms. Insecurity is also preventing the delivery of humanitarian aid to these areas. Between July and September, insecurity prohibited the delivery of assistance to nearly all counties of Central and Western Equatoria, as well as to Lopa, Magwi, and Torit of Eastern Equatoria. Between February and May, Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are expected in Lainya, Yei, Mundri East and Mundri West.

    National Overview

    Current Situation

    Fighting between Government troops and opposition forces in Juba in early July impeded the implementation of the Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCSS), signed by both sides in August 2015. Conflict has since spread to Greater Equatoria, most heavily in Maridi and Mundri of Western Equatoria, Magwi and Budi of Eastern Equatoria, and Lainya, Morobo, and Juba of Central Equatoria (Figure 1). With the exception of Maridi and Mundri, these areas did not experience significant conflict in 2014 or 2015. The ongoing violence in Greater Equatoria has caused massive displacement and prevented many households from accessing farms for first season harvests and second season cultivation. Nearly 300,000 people have fled the country since July, the majority of which left Greater Equatoria to seek refuge in Uganda. By mid-October, Uganda has registered 226,415 refugees since July. An additional 40,000 people fled to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

    Following the outbreak of violence in Juba, renewed conflict has also developed in Greater Upper Nile. Sporadic clashes in Leer and Mayendit of Unity, and Nasir, Melut, and Malakal of Upper Nile have led to displacement, both internally and to neighboring countries. Between early-September and mid-October, more than 32,000 South Sudanese fled to the Gambella Region of Ethiopia, a significant influx compared to past months. As of mid-October, the number of South Sudanese refugees reached over 1 million. This is in addition to the 1.67 million people who remain internally displaced since the conflict broke out in late 2013.

    Macroeconomic conditions throughout South Sudan remain extremely poor. Oil production, which is the primary source of national revenue, is still only 160,000 barrels per day. In addition to low production, the decreasing global oil price, down from 49.79 USD/barrel in June to 46.62 USD/barrel in September, has also contributed to reduced national revenue. Low oil revenue has limited the inflow of USD, which in turn reduces the Government’s capacity to import commodities and depreciates the local currency. The South Sudanese Pound (SSP) has further depreciated against the USD from 46 SSP/USD in late June to 75 SSP/USD in late October. Furthermore, severe fuel shortages throughout the country continue to push up the cost of transportation. In Juba, the retail price of petrol on the parallel market increased from 40 SSP/liter in June to 53 SSP/liter in late September, although the official price remains pegged at 22 SSP/liter.

    In addition to the rising cost of transportation, renewed conflict has significantly impacted trade and market functioning. In Greater Equatoria, trade along the Nimule-Juba and Kaya-Yei routes came to a halt in July following fighting. Trade along the Kaya-Yei route remains largely non-operational, but trade has increased on the Nimule-Juba route since late August. Maize imports from Uganda in the third quarter of 2016 reached 78,000 MT. Despite ongoing conflict and insecurity, this volume is higher than last quarter, the same quarter last year, and the three-year third quarter average. Similarly, sorghum imports reached 57,000 MT over the same time period. This is eight times higher than the same quarter last year and double the three-year average. Conflict in surplus-producing areas of Greater Equatoria is significantly reducing the flow of domestic goods to Juba. This is increasing the demand for goods from Uganda. High demand is supporting high profits and many risk-averse, small-scale traders in Uganda are choosing to export in place of large-scale traders who have withdrawn from the market. This is increasing the volume exported.

    With high demand for goods in Juba and insecurity along trade routes out of the capital, internal trade flows remain significantly disrupted. Few commodities are flowing from Juba through Western Equatoria and Lakes, or further north to Western Bahr el Ghazal, Northern Bahr el Ghazal, and Warrap. Heavy rainfall in August and September caused poor road conditions, which also reduced trade flows.

    After sharply increasing in July, prices have declined slightly in Juba (Figure 4) largely due to increased trade flows. In other key markets, increased trade flows relative to July and the arrival of the harvest are driving price decreases. In Aweil (Figure 5), humanitarian food aid is also likely contributing to price decreases. Despite recent declines, staple food prices remain significantly above both last year and the five-year average. In Juba, the retail price of sorghum is 596 percent higher than last year and 1177 percent above the five-year average.

    In addition to high prices, limited income-earning opportunities are driving low purchasing capacity. In Greater Equatoria and Western Bahr el Ghazal, increased insecurity is restricting access to typical income-earning sources, including the collection of natural resources and charcoal burning. This is highlighted by the recent killing of ten people in Mangala, near Juba, while they were preparing charcoal. Similarly, a group of people transporting produce from their farms to Wau market was ambushed in transit; several were killed while others escaped. Income from the sale of stones for construction has also significantly reduced, as construction work throughout South Sudan is minimal.  

    The daily wage rate increased in some markets compared to last year, although the size of the wage increase is not proportional to the increase in cereal prices. Consequently, labor-to-sorghum terms of trade (ToT) significantly deteriorated from last year. In Juba, the labor-to-sorghum ToT reduced by 30 percent from September 2015. In Aweil and Wau the labor-to-sorghum ToT decreased 78 and 45 percent, respectively, over the same time period.

    Households typically have seasonally high food access to during this time, with the harvest available in both northern and southern regions. In northern areas, including Greater Upper Nile and Greater Bahr el Ghazal, there is one June to September rainy season followed by an October to January harvest. In Greater Equatoria, there is a rainy season from April to June, followed by a June/July harvest, and a rainy season from August to November, followed by a November/December harvest. In Greater Upper Nile and Greater Bahr el Ghazal, the June to September rainy season was above average. Rainfall supported normal crop development, although heavy rainfall also led to above-average levels of flooding that destroyed some crops. In Greater Equatoria, the August to November second rainy season has so far been normal in terms of total rainfall and temporal and spatial distribution. Vegetation conditions remain near average in most areas, with the exception of Eastern Equatoria State, where conditions remain poorer than normal following below-average first season rainfall.

    Despite favorable rainfall, June/July first season production in Greater Equatoria and the current harvest in Greater Bahr el Ghazal and Greater Upper Nile are both likely below average. Information from a recent analysis of high resolution imagery of sentinel sites conducted by USGS and FEWS NET found that area planted in four sites in Greater Equatoria was average to above average. However, the outbreak of conflict during the season led to significant displacement, and subsequently the abandonment of fields. In Northern Bahr el Ghazal, an analysis of two sites in Aweil North and Aweil West shows a significant reduction in cultivation. 

    It is expected statewide cultivation decreased in part due to the outward migration of food insecure households to Sudan during planting. Overall production in the state is expected to be below average. In most of Greater Upper Nile, the analysis and ground reports suggest that cultivation remains below average, but increased compared to 2014 and 2015. However, renewed conflict and displacement is likely impacting the ongoing harvest. In Warrap, both ground reports and the analysis of a sentinel site support that production will be average to slightly above average.

    With limited physical and economic access to food, many areas of the country continue to rely heavily on humanitarian assistance. However, conflict is restricting the delivery of food aid. In Western Bahr el Ghazal, little assistance is getting to Raja due to ongoing insecurity, while in Wau high levels of assistance continue to be delivered, but conflict-related incidents are occasionally disrupting aid deliveries. In Greater Equatoria, continued clashes and road ambushes are preventing the delivery of humanitarian assistance in nearly all counties of Central and Western Equatoria, as well as in Lopa, Magwi, and Torit of Eastern Equatoria. Similarly, insecurity was noted as limiting humanitarian assistance deliveries in Guit, Koch, Leer, Abiemnhom, and Mayendit of Unity State in August and September. Clashes between the Government and opposition forces in central Unity have also led to the evacuation of 62 aid workers in late September. In western, central, and eastern Upper Nile, sporadic conflict is reportedly restricting the movement of humanitarian personnel, which is likely limiting the delivery of humanitarian assistance. Assistance levels remain high in Northern Bahr el Ghazal, as part of scaling-up response to meet high levels of food insecurity. 

    SMART surveys conducted during or slightly after the lean season show acute malnutrition at WHO ‘Critical’ (>15 percent) levels in many parts of Greater Bahr el Ghazal and Greater Upper Nile (Figure 6). The Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) prevalence by Weight-for-Height (WHZ) is near or above the 30 percent Famine (IPC Phase 5) threshold in several counties. In Longochuk, Twic East, Renk, Gogrial East, Gogrial West, and Aweil North, the GAM prevalence recorded during the 2016 lean season was a statistically significant deterioration from their respective SMART surveys conducted during the preceding lean season. One of the most substantial deteriorations in nutrition was in Renk, where the GAM (WHZ) prevalence in May 2016 was 34.8 percent (28.3-36.9) compared to 17.5 percent (14.9-20.5) in June 2015. This level of acute malnutrition is highly concerning; however, the deterioration could be due in part to the high levels of morbidity among children surveyed, most notably diarrhea which could have impacted the weight of children, leading to a higher GAM (WHZ) prevalence. Additionally, the report from this SMART survey also noted that the survey included individuals who had returned or were newly arrived from areas with poor access to food and health care. Therefore, the malnutrition prevalence may represent, in part, the food security situation of another area. In all of the above counties, the Crude Death Rate (CDR) in these areas was below the 2.0/10,000/day Famine (ICP Phase 5) threshold.

    Malnutrition levels typically reduce following green consumption in August/September and the arrival of the main harvest in October. It is likely that increased access to own production and above-average access to fish is supporting increased consumption and improved nutrition. However, given ongoing physical and economic barriers to sufficient food, it is expected malnutrition levels in many areas of Greater Bahr el Ghazal and Greater Upper Nile remain at WHO ‘Critical’ levels. 

    Emergency (IPC Phase 4) food insecurity persists in Central Unity, Western Bahr el Ghazal, and Lainya County of Central Equatoria. In Central Unity, increased violence in Mayendit, Koch, and Leer has displaced thousands of people and further disrupted already fragile livelihoods. Conflict also caused the evacuation of humanitarian workers, disrupting the delivery of aid. There are few to no markets functioning in these counties. As a result, many poor households are facing significant food consumption gaps and continue to rely on the consumption of fish and water lilies. In Western Bahr el Ghazal, continuous insecurity in Raja and Wau has prevented normal livelihood activities and displaced thousands. Many households are not able to access their farms at a time when they rely heavily on own production. Emergency (IPC Phase 4) food insecurity also persists in Lainya county of Central Equatoria, where a significant proportion of the population remains internally displaced without access to their farms or markets. Most are relying heavily on wild foods. Food assistance reached some IDPs in late October. In other conflict-affected counties of Greater Equatoria, fighting is disrupting production, market functioning, and normal livelihood activities. Most areas are Stressed (IPC Phase 2) or in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    In Northern Bahr el Ghazal, where some households were expected to be in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) during the lean season, the arrival of the harvest and the scaling-up of humanitarian assistance have both improved food access. However, many poor households in Aweil North, Aweil East, and Aweil South, who faced substantial food shortages during the lean season, were unlikely to have engaged in normal levels of cultivation, as many were migrating in search of food and income. These households continue to rely heavily on the markets to access food, but with high prices and limited income, they continue to have food consumption gaps. These counties are in Crisis (IPC Phase 3!) with the support of humanitarian assistance.

    In Upper Nile, insecurity and food shortages have caused the displacement of people both internally and across the border into Ethiopia. In addition, floods also damaged crops. However, greater access to livestock products, staple foods from Sudan, and income from the sale of natural products at Malakal PoC support slightly better food access in Upper Nile than in other areas of concern. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes persist in Ulang, Nasir, Panyikang, Baliet, Manyo and Fashoda.

    In Juba, food access reduced substantially following fighting in July. Most poor households who rely on the sale of natural resources to earn income are no longer engaging in these activities out of fear of moving away from homesteads. Few casual labor opportunities are available. The Juba Urban Food Security and Nutrition Assessment in September found that food security, marked by minimum dietary diversity (MDD) and minimum meal frequency (MMF), has deteriorated from the same time in 2015. However, the GAM (WHZ) prevalance, recorded at 11.2 percent (9.2-13.6), remains at WHO ‘Serious’ levels. With limited options to earn income and extremely high food prices, many households are unable to meet their food needs and are in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). Some very poor households may be in Emergency (IPC Phase 4).

    National Assumptions

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

    • Conflict and insecurity are expected to continue throughout much of South Sudan, most significantly in Greater Equatoria, Western Bahr el Ghazal, and Unity. Although conflict was relatively low in early 2016, the outbreak of violence in July has led to increased fighting in the aforementioned areas. In Upper Nile and Jonglei, sporadic clashes are ongoing and tensions are high between the Government and various armed opposition groups; it is likely conflict will escalate in these states. In all areas of concern where conflict is ongoing or likely, it is expected to be highest from November through April as the dry season allows for increased movement of personnel and equipment. 
    • Conflict is expected to displace thousands, disrupt livelihoods activities, prevent normal access to fields for cultivation, periodically interrupt trade flows, and limit humanitarian assistance.
    • Normal availability and access to fish will seasonally decline in November as flood waters recede, but fishing from main water bodies will continue at normal levels in most areas.
    • Availability and access to water lilies will seasonally decline in December, but other wild foods including lalob (desert dates) and nabag (jujube) will be available at normal levels from January through March.
    • Availability and access to livestock products will seasonally decline in December/January as livestock start migrating to dry season grazing areas. Availability will remain seasonally low through May. Typical migration patterns are likely to be impacted by ongoing conflict and some households will migrate to different grazing areas determined to be safer. Most poor households in Unity State, who lost their livestock in 2015, are unlikely to have access to livestock products.
    • The macroeconomic situation is likely to continue to deteriorate. Continuous fighting near the oil fields in Paloich could interfere with oil production, keeping output at or below the current 160,000 barrels per day. With low foreign reserves, the SSP is likely to continue to depreciate against the USD throughout the projection period.
    • Given high profit margins and Government assurances to increase security along the road, trade with Uganda is likely to continue. However, ongoing conflict and frequent road ambushes are also likely to dissuade some traders. The combined effect is likely to be volatile trade flows throughout the outlook period. Ongoing conflict, limited foreign currency, and high transportation costs are also expected to restrict trade flows domestically and from Sudan.   
    • Staple food prices are expected to slightly reduce between October and January as the harvest replenishes household and market stocks. However, prices will remain significantly above both last year and the five-year average due to expected below-average production, macroeconomic instability, and likely volatile trade. In February, when most households have depleted their food stocks, prices are expected to further rise and remain elevated throughout the outlook period.
    • Ongoing conflict is likely to continue to disrupt the delivery of humanitarian assistance, most notably in Greater Equatoria, Western Bahr el Ghazal, Unity, and Upper Nile.
    • The August to November 2016 second rainy season and March to May 2017 first rainy season in Greater Equatoria are both expected to start on time and be average in terms of total cumulative rainfall.
    • Based on key informant information and an analyses of high resolution imagery of area cultivated, it is expected the October to January harvest in most of Greater Bahr el Ghazal and Greater Upper Nile will be below average. As many households in Greater Equatoria were unable to cultivate second season crops, the November/December harvest in southern states is also expected to be much lower than normal.
    • In areas where security remains relatively stable, access to the harvest is expected to improve nutrition to WHO ‘Serious’ levels as is typical from October to January. Deterioration to WHO ‘Critical’ levels is expected from February to May, as food stocks are depleted and waterborne diseases, malaria, and restricted physical access to treatment centers increase with the rainy season. In areas of high insecurity, WHO ‘Critical’ levels of acute malnutrition are expected throughout the outlook period. 

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    From October to January, food security is expected to improve in relatively stable areas of the country with the availability of harvests. However, food availability and access are expected to remain very limited in parts of Unity, Western Bahr el Ghazal, and Greater Equatoria where conflict continues to displace people and disrupt livelihoods. Significantly below-average harvests are expected in these areas. In Leer, Koch, Mayendit, and Guit of Unity State, many households have been displaced and have no access to their farms. They will depend heavily on wild foods, fish, and some livestock products. These foods are not sufficient to bridge food consumption gaps and they will continue to face Emergency (IPC Phase 4) acute food insecurity. Emergency (IPC Phase 4) acute food insecurity is also expected to persist in Lainya of Central Equatoria, Mundri of Western Equatoria, and Wau and Raja of Western Bahr el Ghazal, where fighting is interrupting normal livelihood activities, production, trade flows, and market access. While food security is expected to improve for many poor households in Northern Bahr el Ghazal given access to own production and humanitarian aid, Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are expected to persist in Aweil North, Aweil East, and Aweil South for households who did not cultivate and face high market prices. It is possible humanitarian assistance will continue to support Crisis (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes in these counties, but information on if assistance is planned and funded in is not available.

    From February to May, food security is expected to deteriorate throughout the country as most areas deplete household food stocks and face increasing food prices that are already significantly higher than average. Conflict in Greater Equatoria, Greater Upper Nile, and Western Bahr el Ghazal is expected to continue disrupting livelihoods and few households will have sufficient income to purchase adequate food from markets. Access to livestock products and fish will also reduce during this period. In Warrap, although conflict has remained low and production is expected to be favorable, given that this state is production deficit, similar to Northern Bahr el Ghazal, food security is likely to deteriorate as the lean season approaches. Some food insecure households from Warrap may migrate to Sudan. Given the expectation of increased conflict in Jonglei and Upper Nile that will drive further displacement and limit movement in search of food and income, several counties in these states are expected to deteriorate to Emergency (IPC Phase 4) during this time. Areas already in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) are expected to remain in Emergency (IPC Phase 4). Of great concern is the likelihood that conflict will restrict humanitarian assistance to areas that have persistently experienced Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes, including Unity and Northern Bahr el Ghazal States. With few local food sources during this time, if humanitarian access is limited, some households in Unity and Northern Bahr el Ghazal could exhaust their capacity to cope and be in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5). Improvements to humanitarian access and high levels of assistance are needed to prevent the loss of live. 


    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

    Seasonal Calendar For A Typical Year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Current food security outcomes, October 2016

    Figure 2

    Current food security outcomes, October 2016

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 3

    Conflict Density in South Sudan, July 1 to October 22, 2016

    Source: FEWS NET map based on ACLED data

    Figure 4

    Market and trade functioning as of October 25, 2016

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 5

    Nominal retail price for sorghum in Juba

    Source: WFP

    Figure 6

    Nominal retail price for sorghum in Aweil

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 7

    Results from SMART surveys conducted between May and August, in which GAM (WHZ) prevalence was at or above 25 percent

    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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