As the lean season progresses, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes remain widespread across the country, aggravated by the ongoing conflict in Sudan that has forced over 75,000 people, mainly South Sudanese returnees, to flee back into South Sudan and has disrupted trade across the borders. Although available evidence suggests food assistance has likely mitigated severity of acute food insecurity in several counties of Unity, Jonglei, and Pibor, the influx of South Sudanese returnees in the northern border regions of Renk and Melut in Upper Nile, Aweil North and East in Northern Bahr el Ghazel, Pariang of Unity, and Abyei Administrative Area, has driven up food assistance needs, increased competition over the limited resources, and contributed to an increase in households facing large food consumption gaps indicative of Emergency (IPC Phase 4). Panyikang and Fashoda continue to remain of high concern given persistence of Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes with pockets of households in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5).
Despite the outbreak of conflict in Sudan, relative calm has persisted in many parts of South Sudan in April and May due to continued government efforts to implement the 2018 peace deal, including renewed commitment to initiate transitional justice mechanisms and to fund and deploy unified security forces to conflict hotspot areas. Similarly, earlier local peace initiatives and disarmament efforts in Warrap, Lakes, and Unity, ongoing peace efforts in Abyei, and recent progress on the government’s peace initiative with General Johnson Olony and his Agwelek forces regarding insecurity in Upper Nile and northern Jonglei region are all contributing to reduced insecurity across the country. In the Equatoria region, the repeatedly delayed Rome peace talks, the continued presence of some armed herders from Bor, and periodic clashes between SSPDF and the National Salvation Army (NAS) in remote parts of Yei and Lainya of Central Equatoria and Mundri East of Western Equatoria have continued to interfere with first season cropping activities and trade flow within and along Yei-Maridi trade route. Overall, the risk of sporadic clashes will persist in the coming months in all areas given the decentralized command structure limiting the ability to ensure security everywhere.
The unexpected displacements caused by the ongoing conflict in Sudan are straining available resources and driving a dire humanitarian situation in the counties neighboring Sudan. Since the start of the conflict on April 15, more than 75,000 persons have fled to South Sudan, over 90 percent of whom are South Sudan returnees and join the nearly 2.2 million already internally displaced within the country. Most of the newly displaced persons are arriving in Renk County, Upper Nile (about 60,000 people, or 80 percent of the total arrivals), with several thousand arriving in Pariang of Unity State, Aweil North and East of Northern Bahr-el Ghazal, and Abyei Administrative Area, respectively.
The pipeline conveying South Sudan’s crude oil north to Port Sudan has so far not been damaged in the fighting, but the price per barrel has reportedly dropped, which, if sustained, will significantly affect South Sudan’s economic prospects – previously projected to grow by six percent – given the heavy reliance on oil revenues. The South Sudanese Pound (SSP) continues to depreciate with the exchange rate reaching 960 to 1000 SSP per USD on the official and parallel markets in late May 2023, about 10 and 110 percent loss in value compared to April 2023 and to the same time last year, respectively. While the retail price of a malwa (3.5 kg) of white sorghum in May remained stable in Juba compared to last month (+4 percent), it increased by 10-40 percent in markets in Wau, and Aweil Center, West, and South, in large part reflective of the disruption of cross-border flows since the start of the Sudan Crisis. Compared to the same time last year, prices in Juba, Wau, and Aweil Center were 100-130 percent higher than the same time last year and 230-280 percent above the five-year average. The higher food prices plus reduced household purchasing power amidst low labor opportunities and stagnant wages are limiting household financial access to markets. In May 2023, causal wage-dependent households in Juba, Wau, and Aweil Center could only afford 3-7 kg of sorghum with a day’s wage, 20-50 percent lower than the same period last year.
The rainfall performance for the March to May first rainy season across Greater Equatoria was mixed both temporally and spatially. Overall, cumulative rains for the season are expected to be near-average over most of Western Equatoria, but below-average over parts of Central and Eastern Equatoria. According to satellite monitoring information, up to 45 percent of maize crops in the bimodal Equatoria region are in early to late vegetative stages as of mid-May. This is further supported by key informants and field reports that first-season maize and groundnut crops are in good condition in most areas of Western Equatoria and in the late vegetative stage, with some in the early flowering stage. In Mundri East and Mundri West of Western Equatoria; Magwi, southern Torit, and in the Lopit hills of Lafon and Kapoeta counties of Eastern Equatoria; as well as in Yei, Lainya and Morobo counties of Central Equatoria, maize, groundnut, and sorghum crops are in early vegetative stages but with greater signs of wilting likely to negatively affect the first season harvest this year. In addition, in localized areas of Magwi county (Chama and Pokongo villages), key informants reported heavy rains and hailstones in early May that damaged an estimated 3,564 feddans of maize crops.
The June to September main rainfall season started 10-20 days earlier than normal in much of unimodal South Sudan, except in areas of northern Lakes, southern Unity, and central Warrap where a delay of 10 days was observed, and across the northern border with Sudan where the season has yet to start. In areas of Jonglei, northern Unity, northern Warrap, and parts of Northern Bahr el Ghazal where rainfall started early, planted maize crops are in the emergence stage. Field reports also confirmed planting of maize and short-maturing sorghum in parts of Greater Pibor Administration Area due to the early start of the season, although rainfall has subsequently performed poorly. In Leer and Mayendit of Unity; Fashoda and Renk of Upper Nile; Duk of Jonglei; and much of Lakes, Northern and Western Bahr el Ghazal, land preparation is underway. However, preliminary and short-range forecast data point to below-average rainfall in late May and early June, a trend that is expected to continue according to longer-range forecasts amidst expectations of rapidly emerging El Niño event.
Livestock body conditions have not yet improved in many agropastoral areas of Northern Bahr-el Ghazal, Warrap, central parts of Jonglei, and some parts of Lakes due to delayed pasture rejuvenation contributing to poor animal health conditions, and restricted livestock mobility caused by ongoing inter-communal conflict and raiding. Key informants report over 100 heads of livestock deaths due to disease outbreak since late April 2023 in Aweil Centre. In Tonj and Twic counties of Warrap, and southern Abyei, livestock raiding continues to hinder seasonal migration. In previously flooded areas of Sobat, Akobo, and Pibor catchment areas, receding floodwater has supported pasture rejuvenation that has led to fair and improving livestock body conditions. In agropastoral and pastoral areas of Kapoeta where rangeland conditions are still poor and surface water is limited, key informant reports livestock and herders are still in distant dry seasonal grazing areas.
Although WFP aims to scale up food assistance significantly to about 3.2 million people monthly through the lean season, this effort continues to be negatively impacted by insecurity, food shortages, and logistical challenges in several areas including in Northern Bahr-el Ghazal, Jonglei, Unity, Upper Nile, Western Equatoria, and Lakes states. According to the latest available distribution reports from March 2023, WFP was able to reach about 1.6 million people with over 12 million MT, representing 20 percent of the population in need of assistance and about six percent of the national population respectively. In addition to ongoing challenges to deliveries, the arrival of over 75,000 South Sudanese returnees fleeing conflict in Sudan has increased overall food assistance needs and is likely straining available resources amidst funding challenges.