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Deteriorating economy accelerates price increases and drives growing food gaps

  • Key Message Update
  • South Sudan
  • March 2024
Deteriorating economy accelerates price increases and drives growing food gaps

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Humanitarian needs are rising faster than anticipated in March due to deteriorating macro-economic conditions following an oil pipeline rupture in Sudan, accelerating price increases, rising incidents of conflict that are disrupting livelihoods, trade, and food assistance delivery, amid ongoing high returnee burden. Emergency (IPC Phase 4) is widespread across the northern and eastern parts of the country, with households expected to be in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) in Pibor, Duk, Aweil East, and among returnees. In the upcoming lean season, the prospect of severe flooding and continued conflict on top of the already deteriorating conditions is contributing to a risk of Famine (IPC Phase 5) with greatest concern in parts of north-central Unity and Upper Nile if flooding and conflict isolate households from accessing food for a prolonged period of time. 
    • The incidence of conflict events continued to increase in February and March, with a rise in the number of ambushes and retaliatory attacks as tensions escalate over scarce natural resources and amid the deteriorating economic conditions. This has been evident in hotspot areas including Jonglei, Pibor, Abyei, Warrap, Unity, and parts of Equatoria. In Jonglei and Pibor, multiple ambushes have been reported on commercial, humanitarian, and government convoys resulting in loss of lives and affecting prepositioning of lean season response aid, market functionality, and access to wild foods. Cattle raiding and armed attacks was reported this month in Gogrial East, resulting in over 17 people killed and 500 cattle raided, as well as in Mayom, Pariang, and Ruweng Administrative Area between local youth and different Sudanese nomadic tribes that resulted in over 380 cattle raided. Tensions remain high in Central and Western Equatoria between cattle herders and farmers despite several calls and a recent two-week ultimatum issued by local authorities for Dinka Bor cattle keepers to leave peacefully or be forced out. While no incidents were reported this month in the Abyei-Twic County border region, conditions remain volatile and unpredictable. 
    • The flow of returnees and refugees has slowed slightly relative to peak flows between October and January, but nonetheless remains high and continues to drive a faster-than-normal deterioration in acute food insecurity in receiving counties. On average, 1,400 people crossed daily from March 1-22, translating to between 9-12,000 weekly arrivals. Cumulatively, over 622,000 people have crossed into South Sudan since the start of the war. Upper Nile, Northern Bahr el Ghazal, and Unity continue to bear the greatest share of returnee and refugee burden in the country. Most of the arrivals lack assets and resources to support their families and are heavily reliant on host community and humanitarians for food and basic services. 
    • While floodwaters have significantly receded in the Sobat, Akobo, Pibor, and Khawk River catchments over the last 30 days, inundation persists in many areas of the Sudd wetlands as well as in low-lying areas of Uror and Nyirol as confirmed by FEWS NET field observation in March. Key informants also indicate that residual floodwaters in low-lying areas in Twic East and western Duk of Jonglei, and in Rubkona, Leer, and Mayendit of Unity continue to affect trade and assistance flows, as well as access to wild foods in parts of Jonglei. 
    • South Sudan macroeconomic conditions continue to worsen in March, marked by accelerated depreciation of local currency and forex volatility due to disruptions to oil production and high inflation. Critical repairs on the ruptured section of pipeline in White Nile State of Sudan that carries oil from Upper Nile oil fields continue to be impeded by the insecurity and the macroeconomic situation is likely to worsen further with declaration of a force majeure on South Sudan’s crude oil exports by Sudan’s Ministry of Energy and Petroleum. The local currency lost nearly 50 percent of its value between January and March 2024 on parallel and official market, and over 95 percent relative to same period last year. Between February and March 2024, the cost of the Minimum Expenditure Basket (MEB) increased by up to 25 percent and in some areas was up to 130 percent higher than the same time last year. However, the impact of the oil disruption in the near-term will be felt most intensely in urban areas with high market dependence, sharply rising prices, and inability of the government to pay salaries.  
    • Staple food prices are high and rising atypically early across most key reference and rural markets due to sharp currency depreciation and high supply costs. In Aweil Center and Wau, the average sorghum prices increased 45 and 75 percent from February to March, respectively, while in Juba it increased by 14 percent. Compared to prices at the peak of the lean season (July/August), March prices are 30-60 percent higher in these key markets. FEWS NET’s weekly market observations in Juba and Aweil Centre markets in March confirmed low demand due to low household purchasing capacity. Additionally, traders are increasingly facing difficulty setting prices due to the volatile daily exchange rate. 
    • Based on FEWS NET’s preliminary cross-border trade monitoring data for March, import volumes of maize and sorghum through Nimule and Kaya border crossings with Uganda were between 35 and 45 percent lower than last month due to continued depreciation of the South Sudanese pound (SSP) and South Sudan’s newly introduced Electronic Cargo Tracking system that requires importers and exporters to pay a fee of 350 USD. This represents a decline in volume of 70 to 85 percent compared to same time last year. On the northern border with Sudan, cross-border trade flow activities via Gok-Machar border-crossing point remain disrupted, with the import of sorghum imported in March 50 percent lower than in February and 90 percent lower same time last year due to conflict-related production and supply system disruption. Given concerns around market supply and rising prices in border counties, the South Sudan government has reportedly imposed a ban on the transportation of food commodities and fuel to Sudan’s Darfur and Kordofan regions of Sudan.
    • Household access to livestock products is generally low across the pastoral and agropastoral livelihood zones due to seasonal migration in some areas, as well as declining availability of pasture/browse and heat stress in others amid atypically high temperatures that is contributing to poor body conditions. Indeed, the high temperatures prompted the government to issue a heat advisory and close schools until early April given health concerns. In pastoral areas of Kapoeta in Eastern Equatoria, significant dryness has contributed to atypically far migration of livestock herds and lower than normal availability of and access to milk. Similarly, lower than normal milk availability and access is reported in Northern Bahr el Ghazal as local herders move to dry season grazing areas and some of the Sudanese nomads migrate towards Unity. FEWS NET’s rapid field assessment in Uror and Nyirol counties of Jonglei state in mid-March confirmed fair to poor livestock body conditions. 
    • Although the March to May season has not yet started, light rains were received in some parts of Greater Equatoria bimodal areas, permitting land preparation for first season planting as confirmed by FEWS NET observations in Magwi, Imurok payam of Torit, Lopit of Lafon and Ikwotos County of Eastern Equatoria; rural Juba, Yei and Morobo County of Central Equatoria; Tambura, Maridi, Ibba, Yambio, Ezo, Nzara County of Western Equatoria. Similarly, in unimodal areas, key informants and FEWS NET’s rapid assessment in March report land clearance for main season cropping is ongoing in Pibor town area, Gumuruk, Lekuangole and Vertheth of Pibor; Greater Kapoeta Counties of Eastern Equatoria and Nyirol and Uror of Jonglei.  
    • Under the lean season response, which started in January and will continue through August, WFP reached more than 360,000 beneficiaries (61 percent of the February plan) with food assistance in the five highest priority counties (Aweil East, Duk, Nyirol Pibor, and Rubkona). Lean season distributions began in March in 19 second priority counties, while aid continues for IDPs in Malakal and Bentiu, as well as among refugees at refugee camps. In total WFP aims to reach 2.3 million beneficiaries with food assistance in March under General Food Distribution (GFD) and Asset Creation Livelihood activities as part of lean season response in counties classified under Emergency (IPC Phase 4) or worse. While river and air operations have helped to support pre-positioning to-date, significant security challenges by road, exemplified by attacks on a WFP convoy along Bor-Pibor road and another ambush on WFP contracted commercial truck between Gadiang and Uror on March 4, will continue to present a major challenge to the prepositioning and distribution of assistance. In addition, on-going retargeting and registration efforts have contributed to delayed distributions.

    Recommended citation: FEWS NET. South Sudan Key Message Update March 2024: Deteriorating economy accelerates price increases and drives growing food gaps, 2024.

    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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