The number of South Sudanese with moderate to large food consumption gaps indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes is sharply rising as the 2021 lean season progresses. Food insecurity remains most severe in Pibor, where Emergency! (IPC Phase 4!) outcomes are fragile due to renewed conflict in May that has displaced thousands and significantly disrupted food assistance delivery. Severe outcomes also persist in Akobo of Jonglei and greater Tonj of Warrap, where there are still households in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5). Other areas of high or increasing concern due to the food security impacts of episodic conflict and insecurity or lingering flood extent in May include Ayod, Duk, Twic East, and Uror of Jonglei; Mayom of Unity; Cueibet and Rumbek East of Lakes; and Lainya, Kajo-Keji, Terekeka, and Maridi of Greater Equatoria.
In Pibor, there is a risk that food insecurity could rapidly deteriorate to Famine Likely (IPC Phase 5). Renewed conflict between the Murle, Lou Nuer, and Dinka communities in May killed at least 150 people and displaced thousands in Gumuruk and Lekuangole payams, and an interim FSL Cluster update estimates up to 20,000 people are now displaced in Pibor Town and far bush areas. In addition to large-scale raids of tens of thousands of cattle, the Gumuruk market is reportedly completely destroyed. According to preliminary reports, the violence caused the suspension of food distributions not only in Gumuruk but also Lekuangole and Verteth payams. An assessment of the scale of disruption to humanitarian operations is still underway, but a preliminary update from WFP indicates that 550 MT of food, sufficient to feed 33,000 people, was looted or destroyed in Gumuruk. WFP has also suspended prepositioning of nutrition supplies in Gumuruk, Lekuangole, and Verteth warehouses, with plans to transport supplies monthly from Pibor payam.
The threat of retaliatory attacks, loss of livelihoods amid existing scarcity, and increased difficulty of delivering lifesaving assistance – especially to inaccessible and/or insecure areas – may reverse recent gains in food security outcomes in Pibor. According to SMART survey data collected in March, the convergence of food security indicators and acute malnutrition and mortality outcomes suggests significant levels of food, nutrition, health, and WASH assistance drove improvement from Famine Likely (IPC Phase 5) to Emergency! (IPC Phase 4!). In March and April, 35-40 percent of the population received food assistance. Additionally, humanitarian partners treated over 12,000 children for severe and moderate acute malnutrition from January to April, reaching nearly 75 percent of their target. In the absence of humanitarian assistance, a significant proportion of households would likely have very large food consumption gaps, leading to an increase in acute malnutrition and mortality. An end to the conflict, full humanitarian access, and a sustained scale-up in food, nutrition, health, and WASH assistance is urgently needed to prevent the re-emergence of Famine Likely (IPC Phase 5).
As reported in April, preliminary SMART survey data indicate Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes with households in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) persist in Tonj North and Akobo West. In Tonj North, a relative decrease in conflict and scale-up of food assistance has driven a decline in the share of households with severe hunger. In Akobo West, however, data suggest an increase in the population in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5). Concurrently, the Global Acute Malnutrition (weight-for-height) prevalence in Akobo West was ‘Critical’ at 19.0 percent (15.2-23.5 C.I.) and accompanied by elevated mortality outcomes. Meanwhile, the results of the SMART survey in Aweil South of Northern Bahr el Ghazal are pending validation. Proposals to complete SMART surveys in Tonj South and Tonj East are also moving forward.
In May, episodic conflict and insecurity affected parts of Tonj North, Tonj East, Abyei, and Gogrial East of Warrap, Mayom of Unity, Uror of Jonglei, Rumbek East and Cueibet of Lakes, and parts of Greater Equatoria. Political tensions, inter- and intracommunal retaliatory attacks, and road banditry remain high in hot spot areas, even though the re-constitution of the national parliament in May has fulfilled a key requirement of the 2018 peace agreement and several local peace efforts in Lakes, Warrap, and Unity states have endeavored to address the root causes of intercommunal conflict. In greater Tonj, for example, a declining trend in conflict – attributed to not only local peace initiatives but also the increased severity of law enforcement, including the use of capital punishment – was interrupted by the raiding of an estimated 10,000 heads of cattle in Keric, Awul, Paweng, and Marial-lou payams in early May. In Greater Equatoria, road ambushes along Yei-Juba road and along Yei-Kaya road, SSPDF and NAS clashes in Kajo-Keji and Maridi, and raids in Lainya caused loss of life, injury, and livelihoods. Most significantly, over 3,000 people were internally displaced to Wuji boma of Lainya.
Despite interventions by South Sudan’s central bank to stabilize the economy, staple food prices remain high. Foreign exchange auctions to commercial banks and forex bureaus in April and May have driven appreciation of the SSP against the USD on the parallel exchange rate market and reduced the distortion between the parallel and official exchange rates. Additionally, a new tax exemption on cereal imports from Sudan has increased local market supply in Northern Bahr el Ghazal. While these developments may mitigate the severity of inflation in the near-to-medium term, the price of a malwa (3.5 kg) of white sorghum in early May was 44-190 percent above May 2020 and 101-323 percent above the five-year average in Rumbek, Aweil, Wau, and Juba. Based on April price data, a day’s wage could purchase 30-50 percent less sorghum in Aweil and Juba (11 kg and 5 kg, respectively) compared to April 2020. However, a rising wage rate in Wau led to a gain in the terms of trade to 18 kg, which was 47 percent higher than April 2020.
In April, WFP delivered general food distributions and food-for-assets assistance to 2.35 million people, 20 and 23 percent of whom were located in Jonglei and Unity, respectively. This figure represents a 47 percent scale-up in food assistance compared to March under the lean season response. As part of the response, WFP and its partners continue to prioritize Pibor, Akobo, Aweil South,1 and greater Tonj, reaching approximately 25-35 percent of the population in each of these counties with a 21-day ration. Still, the total 2.35 million figure suggests only up to 40 percent of the 6.0-7.0 million people currently facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes in South Sudan received food assistance. In terms of nutrition assistance, available information from the Nutrition Cluster indicates that 8,000 children under five years of age and over 4,000 pregnant and lactating women received nutritional assistance through nutrition facilities in the six priority counties.
Significant logistic challenges to food assistance delivery persist not only in Pibor but across many conflict- and flood-affected areas. For instance, insecurity and frequent road ambushes along the Bor-Gadiang-Pajut road to northern Jonglei and the Bor-Gadiang-Manyabol road to Pibor have impeded prepositioning operations and suspended convoy travel. WFP is engaging local authorities to protect humanitarian convoys, but conflict, insecurity, and floods have already shortened the prepositioning window for 370,000 MT of food prior to the main rainy season, especially in Jonglei, Upper Nile, southern Unity, and Warrap. Funding to ensure food assistance and humanitarian access is sustained through the end of 2021 is vital given the expectation of a third consecutive year of flooding. So far, WFP has only been able to confirm plans to prioritize food assistance delivery to Pibor through the end of the year.
The conclusion of the March to May rainfall season in bimodal areas of southern and western South Sudan is consistent with recent projections. Cumulative rainfall performance ranges between 85 and 95 percent of normal, based on satellite-derived data, with a recent increase in rainfall supporting late planting or replanting in areas that previously had significant rainfall deficits. Key informants report maize and sorghum crop development ranges from the early vegetative stages in Eastern and Central Equatoria, to planting and germination stages in greater Kapoeta, to weeding and flowering stages in Western Equatoria. In some counties, such as Yambio, the maize harvest has already begun. Overall, first season production will likely be similar to or higher than 2020 despite localized delays or deficits. Meanwhile, an early and above-average start of the June to September main rainy season is witnessed in northern border regions.