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Elevated assistance needs driven by poor economic conditions and conflict

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Middle East and Asia
  • February - September 2024
Elevated assistance needs driven by poor economic conditions and conflict

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  • Key Messages
  • Outlook by Country
  • Most likely food security outcomes and areas receiving significant levels of humanitarian assistance
  • Key Messages
    • Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes remain present in northern and northeastern Afghanistan – including some urban areas – amid the January to May lean season due to low labor opportunities. Meanwhile, the remainder of the country is facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes. The resurgence of seasonal rainfall in February alleviated significant early-season precipitation deficits, raising expectations for near-average seasonal harvests from June. In December 2023, staple food prices were up to 25 percent lower than last year, supported by stable imports from Kazakhstan, Iran, and Pakistan, coupled with the depreciation of the Afghani (AFN) currency. Labor opportunities remain constrained in urban areas, compounded by the influx of returnees from Iran and Pakistan, but wage rates have been largely stable. While food prices have declined, purchasing power among households remains low as many people remain outside the labor market. As the wheat harvest begins in June, improving household access to own-produced foods, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected in key lowland growing areas. However, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) is likely through September in parts of the second-season dependent central and northeastern highlands and key urban areas. 
    • Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are likely to persist through September in Lebanon, especially in areas affected by conflict or with a large refugee population. The ongoing conflict in southern Lebanon has displaced over 90,000 people, destroyed assets, constrained typical access to livelihood activities, and disrupted supply chains in the southern farming highlands, while limiting humanitarian access for remaining populations. The ongoing conflict also eroded labor opportunities across the key tourism sector while increasing competition for labor access between the disproportionately large number of refugees and residents in northern and central governorates. reduced labor opportunities across Lebanon, loss of production in conflict areas, cuts in humanitarian assistance, and staple food prices that are 300 percent or higher than the five-year average, are likely to restrain access to food and income among the population, driving some households to Emergency (IPC Phase 4) from May, onward.
    • Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes are likely to remain widespread across most of Yemen, while Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are expected to emerge in several governorates controlled by the Sana’a-based authorities (SBA) in the February to May period. In areas controlled by the internationally-recognized government (IRG), severe shortages of revenue continue to drive depreciation of the currency, rising food prices, and worsening delays in the payment of civil servant salaries. In SBA-controlled areas, the pause in WFP-provided food assistance under the General Food Assistance program (that has been sustained since December 2023) has left millions with increased market dependence, compounded by increasingly scarce income-earning opportunities driven largely by declining purchasing power driven largely by declining purchasing power among middle-income and better-off households. The limited improvement in household food access from social support (zakat) during Ramadan is unlikely to compensate for gaps left by the humanitarian assistance pause. 
    • While Gaza is not a regularly-monitored FEWS NET country and therefore not typically included in regional summaries, FEWS NET’s targeted analyses on Gaza can be found here. Food security in the Gaza Strip is of extreme concern. Famine (IPC Phase 5) is imminent in northern Gaza, and an immediate cessation of hostilities alongside a largescale, multi-sectoral response with uninhibited access to populations in need across Gaza is required to prevent widespread loss of life.

    Outlook by Country

    Afghanistan

    Key Messages

    • At the peak of the lean season, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are present in northern, northeastern, and western parts of the county following the early depletion of food stocks from 2023's below-average harvest, limited income-earning opportunities, and a decline in remittances from Iran, all of which are sustaining low household purchasing power. In urban areas, at least one in five households are engaging in coping strategies indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3) as high unemployment rates amid a large influx of returnees from Pakistan and Iran keep household access to casual labor opportunities low despite declining food prices. However, average March to May rainfall is expected to support wheat production and agricultural labor opportunities, improving household access to food and income. The start of the harvest in June is expected to improve household food access across the country, with area-level Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes emerging in northern parts of the country as they recover from the multi-year drought. However, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to remain present in higher elevation areas, where the harvest does not typically occur until October, and household access to income for food purchases is expected to remain low.
    • Although cumulative precipitation from October through February was below average across the country, deficits are declining following favorable precipitation in late February. Average precipitation from March to May will further reduce cumulative deficits across the country and support wheat production in the spring. However, forecasted high temperatures and likely below-average snowpack may impact water availability: Snowpack development in March and April will be important for water availability in the summer for downstream areas where irrigated crops are cultivated. 
    • In January 2024, WFP assisted 7.4 million people through emergency food, cash, and nutrition support, distributing around 25,500 metric tons of food. At the end of January, WFP had 42,420 metric tons of food available in its in-country warehouses, while another 34,000 metric tons were either in transit or stored in WFP warehouses located outside the country, indicating there is HFA available through at least April 2024. Beneficiaries of the ongoing distribution of HFA will likely be Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) through at least the peak of the lean season. 
    • In January 2024, staple food prices in Afghanistan continued a declining trend, with prices around 1 to 3 percent lower than December 2023 and 20 to 25 percent lower than last year. The price decline can primarily be attributed to the appreciation of the Afghan Afghani (AFN). Despite a 3 percent depreciation in January, the currency remains relatively strong compared to before September 2023. This appreciation of the AFN has benefited Afghan traders who import various goods, including food items. Furthermore, the ongoing importation of food commodities from neighboring countries, particularly Kazakhstan, Iran, and Pakistan, has played a significant role in maintaining a stable market supply, contributing to lower prices for essential food items.

    For more information, including events that would change the most likely scenario, see the February to September 2024 Afghanistan Food Security Outlook.

    Yemen

    Key Messages

    • After nine years of war, millions of poor households have exhausted their ability to employ even severe livelihood coping strategies (such as sending children to join armed groups or engaging in risky work) as they seek to meet their basic needs. Despite some temporary relief in March and April associated with social support (zakat) during the holy month of Ramadan, millions will likely continue to face food consumption gaps in the face of highly limited income-earning opportunities, above-average food prices, and, in areas controlled by the Sana’a-based authorities (SBA), the ongoing pause in humanitarian food assistance. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes are expected to remain widespread across the country, with Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes expected to emerge in several governorates where more than half the population received assistance prior to the pause in December 2023.
    • In SBA-controlled areas, the pause in WFP-provided humanitarian food assistance under the General Food Assistance (GFA) program has increased dependence on markets for households across wealth groups that were previously GFA beneficiaries. Evidence from key informants indicates that even comparatively better-off households have reduced non-essential expenditures, in turn reducing opportunities for poor households to earn income including through daily wage labor or petty trade. On top of this, the insecurity in the Red Sea has disrupted fishing livelihoods, causing income losses for both fishers and poor households who were previously engaged in income-earning opportunities along the supply and marketing chains. As such, in SBA areas, improvements in the business operating environment and availability of income-earning opportunities that previously occurred due to declining levels of conflict have been at least partially eroded since late 2023.
    • In areas controlled by the internationally recognized government (IRG), shortages of revenue and foreign currency persist. On February 8, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia provided 250 million USD of financial support to the Aden-based Central Bank of Yemen (CBY-Aden). However, needs far exceed the value of the deposit amid the ongoing halt in oil exports, and the local currency continued to depreciate in February. Throughout the projection period, the CBY-Aden is expected to conduct foreign currency auctions only on an intermittent basis, and further depreciation of the currency is expected to drive rising prices of food and non-food commodities. Civil servants will likely continue to experience exacerbated delays in receiving their salaries, and limited purchasing capacity among even middle-income and better-off households will continue to limit opportunities for poorer households to earn income.

    To learn more, see the February to September 2024 Yemen Food Security Outlook.

    Remotely monitored countries

    Lebanon

    Key Messages

    • The ongoing conflict between the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon is driving population displacement, disrupting agricultural livelihoods, and restricting humanitarian access to populations in need. As of late February, the IOM reports that more than 91,000 people have been displaced across the country since the outbreak of conflict in early October, primarily from the southern conflict epicenters of Bint Jbeil, Marjayoun, and Sour districts. a notable share (more than 20 percent) of displaced households and the approximately 60,000 people still residing close to the conflict are likely to continue facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes through at least September, due to loss of typical sources of food and income amid limited humanitarian assistance.
    • Lebanon continues to contend with very poor macroeconomic conditions in the context of the prevailing governance crisis. Despite some improvement in recent months, the annual headline inflation rate remained in at 177 percent in January 2024. WFP market monitoring indicates that the cost of the survival minimum food expenditure basket (food SMEB) in December 2023 was 164 percent and 28 percent higher in terms of LBP and USD, respectively, compared to the same time last year. 
    • About 1.3 million Syrian and Palestinian refugees are currently residing in Lebanon, primarily in northern areas. These refugees have limited access to food and income, with many dependent on humanitarian assistance. In some areas, the refugee population exceeds the local population, straining community resources. Many worst-affected refugees and poor households in northern areas are expected to be facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes given high and rising prices amid limited labor opportunities, exacerbated by the sharp decline in tourism that occurred following the outbreak of conflict in late 2023. Some improvement in access to food will occur with the barley and wheat harvest in May/June, though Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to persist through at least September in areas where refugees comprise a large share of the population, such as Akkar and Bekaa regions.

    To learn more, see the February 2024 Lebanon Remote Monitoring Report.


    Most likely food security outcomes and areas receiving significant levels of humanitarian assistance

    Recommended citation: FEWS NET. Middle East and Asia Food Security Outlook February - September 2024: Elevated assistance needs driven by poor economic conditions and conflict, 2024.

    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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