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Risk of Famine (IPC Phase 5) remains high amid renewed conflict and weather shocks

  • Key Message Update
  • South Sudan
  • July 2021
Risk of Famine (IPC Phase 5) remains high amid renewed conflict and weather shocks

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • At the July/August peak of the lean season, FEWS NET estimates up to 8 million people are in need of humanitarian food assistance. Household food availability is at an annual low, conflict, insecurity, and floods continue to disrupt livelihood activities and trade, and staple food prices are high and above average. As a result, Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes – associated with large food consumption deficits, severe livelihoods coping strategies, and atypically high acute malnutrition – are widespread. Some households likely face Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) in Pibor, Tonj North, Tonj East, and Akobo West. However, food assistance is likely preventing worse outcomes in several areas: this includes Pibor, where FEWS NET assesses Emergency! (IPC Phase 4!) outcomes are likely, and 26 other counties where FEWS NET assesses Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes are likely. 

    • FEWS NET assesses the risk of Famine (IPC Phase 5) is higher than previous years, especially in Pibor. In Pibor, typical food and income sources remain scarce amid the near collapse of livestock production and damage to market infrastructure. Security conditions are still volatile despite relative calm in July, and floods are a recurrent threat to local livelihoods. To prevent extreme outcomes, humanitarians delivered rations to around 35 percent of the population monthly from April to June and improved their capacity to reach remote populations by establishing distribution points in Lokoromach in Lekuangole payam and Molokoch in Gumuruk payam. Humanitarian assistance remains critical to maintaining Emergency! (IPC Phase 4!) outcomes until the harvest and should ultimately be sustained throughout the harvest period to alleviate the severity of food insecurity and acute malnutrition. If a new shock were to significantly reduce 2021 harvest prospects, isolate households from food sources, or prevent food assistance delivery, then Famine (IPC Phase 5) would be likely.

    • Conflict continues to drive Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes in the Warrap-Lakes-Unity border region and parts of Jonglei, Upper Nile, and Greater Equatoria. In July, renewed conflict between the Rek Dinka, Luachjang Dinka, and Akop communities in Tonj East and Tonj North displaced over 5,000 people from Marial Lou payam in Tonj North. Humanitarian partners also reported the theft of 233 MT of food commodities – sufficient to feed 8,000 people for three months – and over 55 cartons of nutrition commodities. If conflict escalates and leads to significant crop and livestock losses, then food security outcomes will likely be worse than projected. July also witnessed armed clashes between ex-SPLA-IO and SPLA-IO forces in Nagero and Tambura counties in Western Equatoria, where an estimated 15,000 people have been displaced to the SSPDF base in Nagero Town and urgently need food assistance. Conflict between farmers and cattle keepers is also atypically high in Kajo-Keji, Lainya, Yei, Budi, greater Kapoeta, and Torit counties of Central and Eastern Equatoria. 

    • Forecasts from FEWS NET’s partners at the NOAA/CPC, USGS, and NASA predict above-average rainfall in 2021 will likely cause flooding comparable to 2020 in the Sudd Wetland and other areas. Rainfall is currently intensifying as the June to September rainfall season approaches its peak, and there are already reports of flooding in Aweil South of Northern Bahr el Ghazal, Fangak of Jonglei, Mayendit and Leer of Unity, Renk of Upper Nile, and Nzara of Western Equatoria. The worst-affected county is Aweil South, where SMART survey data collected in May already showed atypically high levels of global acute malnutrition (GAM) at 23.1 percent (17.6-29.8 95% C.I.), which is indicative of ‘Critical’ (GAM weight-for-height 15-29.9 percent). Local authorities and key informants report flash floods have displaced over 3,000 people and submerged sorghum, groundnut, and vegetable crops in Panthou, Wathmuok, Ayiai, Tiaraliet, and Tarweng villages and in Malual Centre payam. The floods have occurred atypically early in the season in Aweil South, which may foreshadow excessive flood extent as the season progresses.  

    • In addition to conflict and weather shocks, high staple food prices and the low availability of income-generating activities are significantly constraining households’ capacity to purchase food. The record-high national cereal deficit, high import costs, and black-market currency speculation continue to drive above-average staple food prices. In June, the retail price of a malwa (3.5 kg) of white sorghum ranged from 57 to 80 percent above June 2020 and 38 to 182 percent above the five-year average in the major markets of Wau, Bor South, and Juba. However, rising import volumes prevented month-on-month price increases. Imports of various cereal commodities from Uganda via the Nimule border crossing point ranged from 28 to 65 percent above May 2021 and from 132 to 181 percent above June 2020. Sorghum grain import volumes from Sudan via the Gok-Machar and Warwar border crossing points were also 58 and 224 percent higher, respectively, than June 2020. 

    • Apart from the risk of seasonal floods in low-lying areas, rainfall is generally supporting normal crop development and has regenerated pasture and water for livestock. According to satellite-derived data, cumulative seasonal rainfall ranges from 105-130 percent of average in Greater Bahr el Ghazal to 85-95 percent of average in southeastern South Sudan. In the southeast, heavy rainfall in July helped ease soil moisture stress. Most households are currently cultivating crops for the main season harvest in October, though households in bimodal areas of southern and western South Sudan – especially Western Equatoria – are harvesting first-season stocks and planting second-season crops. Key informants report sorghum, maize, and groundnut crops for the main season are generally in the reproductive stages. Meanwhile, key informants suggest the first season harvest in Greater Equatoria is broadly similar to 2020. However, some crop losses occurred in Kajo-Keji and Lainya due to irregular rainfall and atypical livestock migration and in Magwi due to Fall Army Worm. 

    • According to WFP’s distribution report, 2.47 million people received general food distributions and food-for-assets assistance in June. This total is equivalent to approximately 30-35 percent of the estimated total population that needs food assistance, implying that a large population is still exposed to food consumption gaps and high acute malnutrition during the lean season period. WFP also reached 0.82 million people with nutrition commodities and 1.1 million people with safety nets and resilience programs in June. In WFP’s top six priority counties – including Pibor, Tonj East, Tonj North, Akobo, Tonj South, and Aweil South – food assistance reached 20-35 percent of the county-level population on average from April to June, which remains below each county’s estimated level of need.

    • Conflict, insecurity, and seasonal floods continue to disrupt food assistance deliveries, threaten the safety of humanitarian workers, and increase operational costs. In July, WFP reported delays to food distributions due to conflict and looting in Tonj North and Tonj East and due to the impact of heavy rain and floods on airlift, boat, and communications capacity in Aweil South, Duk, Ayod, and Twic East. The delays are highly concerning in Twic East, where the IPC estimated 90 percent of the population needs food assistance but only five percent have received it since April. In addition to the theft of food and nutrition commodities in Tonj North and Tonj East in July, WFP reported multiple raids across South Sudan in June. In Eastern Equatoria, for example, armed groups ambushed and robbed WFP convoys on Torit-Imehijak, Ikotos-Torit, and Narus-Kapoeta roads. In Jonglei and Pibor, small-scale raids continue to impede full humanitarian access, as exemplified by an attack by Murle groups on a WFP convoy between Gadiang and Duk Pajut.

    • Efforts to address exceptionally high levels of violence and threats targeting humanitarian workers are underway in Renk of Upper Nile, where humanitarian operations were suspended in June. Field reports suggest interventions by local authorities and senior government officials have played a role in easing threats to humanitarians in Northern Bahr el Ghazal and Eastern Equatoria, where Vice President Rebecca Garang visited Torit to address the issue in late June.

    This Key Message Update provides a high-level analysis of current acute food insecurity conditions and any changes to FEWS NET's latest projection of acute food insecurity outcomes in the specified geography. Learn more here.

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