Food Security Outlook Update

COVID-19 is disrupting poor households’ access to food

April 2020

April - May 2020

Carte des Résultats estimés les plus probables de la sécurité alimentaire, Février-Mai 2020 : Minimal (Phase 1 de l'IPC) dans Tshopo, Bas-Uele, et Haut-Uele; Stress (Phase 2 de l'IPC) dans Maniema, Sankuru, Lualaba, Haut-Lomami, Haut-Katanga, et parties de Kasai, Kasai-Central, Tanganyika, Sud-Kivu, Nord Kivu, et Ituri; Crise (Phase 3 de l'IPC) dans parties de Kasai, Kasai-Central, Tanganyika, Nord-Kivu, Sud-Kivu, et Ituri

June - September 2020

Carte des Résultats estimés les plus probables de la sécurité alimentaire, Février-Mai 2020 : Minimal (Phase 1 de l'IPC) dans Tshopo, Bas-Uele, et Haut-Uele; Stress (Phase 2 de l'IPC) dans Maniema, Sankuru, Lualaba, Haut-Lomami, Haut-Katanga, et parties de Kasai, Kasai-Central, Tanganyika, Sud-Kivu, Nord Kivu, et Ituri; Crise (Phase 3 de l'IPC) dans parties de Kasai, Kasai-Central, Tanganyika, Nord-Kivu, Sud-Kivu, et Ituri

IPC v3.0 Acute Food Insecurity Phase

1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3: Crisis
4: Emergency
5: Famine
Not mapped
Would likely be at least one phase worse without current or programmed humanitarian assistance
FEWS NET classification is IPC-compatible. IPC-compatible analysis follows key IPC protocols but does not necessarily reflect the consensus of national food security partners. FEWS NET only maps the Eastern half of DRC.

IPC v3.0 Acute Food Insecurity Phase

1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3: Crisis
4: Emergency
5: Famine
Not mapped
Would likely be at least one phase worse without current or programmed humanitarian assistance
FEWS NET classification is IPC-compatible. IPC-compatible analysis follows key IPC protocols but does not necessarily reflect the consensus of national food security partners. FEWS NET only maps the Eastern half of DRC.

IPC v3.0 Acute Food Insecurity Phase

1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3+: Crisis or higher
Would likely be at least one phase worse without
current or programmed humanitarian assistance
FEWS NET classification is IPC-compatible. IPC-compatible analysis follows key IPC protocols but does not necessarily reflect the consensus of national food security partners.
FEWS NET Remote Monitoring countries use a colored outline to represent the highest IPC classification in areas of concern.

IPC v3.0 Acute Food Insecurity Phase

Presence countries:
1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3: Crisis
4: Emergency
5: Famine
Remote monitoring
countries:
1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3+: Crisis or higher
Would likely be at least one phase worse without
current or programmed humanitarian assistance
Not mapped
FEWS NET Remote Monitoring countries use a colored outline to represent the highest IPC classification in areas of concern.

Key Messages

  • Like other countries, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. As of 29 April, the country had recorded 500 positive cases, 31 deaths and 65 recoveries. The situation continues to deteriorate, and the number of people infected is still increasing. In response, the government has taken drastic steps to prevent large-scale contamination. Borders have been closed and four cities have been placed in lockdown. These measures are having an impact on food security particularly for food availability and access.

  • The period from May to September 2020 includes lean season B and the commencement of sowing work for the main season A in the eastern part of the DRC. Restrictions on people’s movements, especially those of farmers, could prevent maintenance work for the current agricultural season and the preparation of land for the next agricultural season A. This situation could have a detrimental impact on the availability of local produce and encourage an increase in imports to fill any gaps.

  • Following the announcement of restrictive measures to combat COVID-19, traders held onto stocks and engaged in price speculation. This atypical change at the end of March compared with the beginning of the same month remains significant. Given that the aggravating factors were more speculative and not linked to a likely decline in availability, a downward trend is being observed in the price of major cereals, including imported rice and maize, in the few markets monitored during early April.

Current Situation

COVID-19: The DRC was first affected by the COVID-19 pandemic on 11 March 2020. Since then, the situation has continued to deteriorate, with the number of people infected rising every day. As of 29 April, the country had recorded 500 positive cases, 25 deaths and 65 recoveries. In an attempt to limit the spread of the disease, the government has taken preventive measures to contain people and restrict their movements to prevent widespread contamination. The government declared a state of emergency on 10 April, which is still in place, and everyone is encouraged to remain at home. All land and air borders with neighboring countries are closed to people, with the exception of imported food cargos. The cities of Kinshasa, Bukavu, Goma, Bunia and Beni, where all of the positive cases have been confirmed, are in quarantine and therefore isolated from other provinces. In markets, only food businesses are officially authorized. This situation is beginning to affect aspects of food security at the national level. Prices for the main food items and fuel have increased, while household incomes have fallen sharply as a result of the restrictions. Access to food is therefore becoming increasingly difficult, especially for poor households.

Security situation and population movements: The DRC continues to face an unprecedented and worrying security situation. The continuation of hostilities by armed groups on several fronts and intercommunity violence in the eastern part of the country are paving the way for an uncertain future for those areas plagued by constant population displacement. The situation in the Fube area south of central Moba in the province of Tanganyika has been of particular concern recently as a result of the massive influx of displaced persons from Moliro following the incidents on 13 March between Zambian and Congolese naval forces. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 1,435 displaced persons arrived in central Moba at the end of March. Household access to fields and other livelihoods currently remains limited, putting a lot of pressure on local resources. Unfortunately, these outcomes are similar to those in other areas of insecurity and displacement in eastern DRC.

The situation in Djugu territory in Ituri province is also concerning. Since February 2020, rebel leader Justin Ngudjolo’s militia has been launching offensives against the positions of the regular DRC army in several areas on the coast of Lake Albert in Djugu territory, including the health areas of Drodro, Rethy, Mangala, Fataki, Liba, Jinga and Lita. These attacks resulted in killings, abductions and other atrocities committed against the local population. In early February 2020, new population movements were reported in the area. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 16,370 newly displaced persons were registered in February 2020 alone. In the absence of any cultivation during the last two consecutive seasons in this area, the next lean season is set to arrive early and is expected to be difficult. The major access roads (Bunia-Fataki-Mahagi) have been cut off and several humanitarian organizations have left the area owing to insecurity.

The food situation in the Djugu area remains a concern. A World Food Programme (WFP) household food security assessment conducted in June 2019 had already estimated that more than 28 percent of households were experiencing severe food insecurity, and more than 58 percent were experiencing moderate food insecurity. The proportion of households whose food consumption score was poor or borderline was estimated at 90 percent. As for livelihood-based survival strategies, 49 percent of households were using crisis and emergency strategies, such as child prostitution, begging for some adults, and the sale of land to flee conflict and migrate to other areas. Some households had sold their work equipment.

The effects of COVID-19 and the government’s lockdown measures, which have been strengthened since the emergence of two positive cases in Ituri province, will have a negative impact in this area that is already exhausted by food insecurity, and may lead to a worsening of the population’s food situation. The borders with neighboring Uganda have been closed and trade across Lake Albert has been suspended. In addition, according to the Mid-Upper Arm Circumference (MUAC) screening report carried out on 1,690 children in Katoto, a locality in Djugu territory, by the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Mercy Corps in collaboration with Medair and Caritas in November 2019, the nutritional situation in this region remains a concern. According to the same report, severe acute malnutrition (SAM) is estimated at 7 percent with an edema rate of 10 percent. Moderate malnutrition stands at around 15 percent.

Agriculture: The current period is when crop maintenance activities for agricultural season B are carried out in the northeastern and central-eastern parts of the country, and when harvests begin in the southeast. Restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are limiting households’ ability to conduct ongoing season B maintenance and are likely to lead to an atypical decline in agricultural output in June 2020. The northeastern and central-eastern provinces of the country, including the semi-urban areas of the cities already affected, will be hardest hit by the impact of the restrictions, as the pandemic has occurred at the height of the growing season.

Resurgence of Ebola virus disease (EVD): The end of the EVD epidemic in the DRC was set to have been declared during the week of 13 April, but three new cases of the disease and subsequent deaths have been reported in Beni in North Kivu province. This resurgence puts the DRC in an uncertain situation as it attempts to tackle two highly contagious and deadly epidemics simultaneously (EVD and COVID-19). Thousands of contacts have been placed in quarantine and are no longer able to carry out their activities during this period or even gain access to their livelihoods. Increased morbidity and mortality are expected among populations in affected areas. These populations had already endured displacement due to armed conflict in the preceding months. As a result, the restrictions imposed in response to these two diseases may exacerbate the already precarious situation of those living in the area.

Humanitarian assistance: The COVID-19 restrictions announced at the national level represent a new challenge for humanitarian activities, including the availability of resources and the accessibility of regions to enable assistance to be provided to vulnerable people. In North and South Kivu, WFP has obtained an exemption that allows it to continue activities involving gatherings of more than 20 people while respecting social distancing measures. OCHA is currently negotiating with the authorities to seek the same authorization for all humanitarian organizations. Unfortunately, despite this process, the United Nations organization has considered it necessary to reduce its response plan, which initially sought to target 15.6 million people in need, in order to focus on priority areas.

Updated Assumptions

FEWS NET’s most likely scenario assumptions for the February through September 2020 period have changed as follows:

COVID-19: Based on information available from global experts, including the World Health Organization (WHO), the COVID-19 pandemic in the DRC is expected to continue in the short and medium term, and it is likely that there will be an increasing number of cases due to the rapid spread of the virus and the increasing number of tests. Although it is difficult to predict the duration and severity of the epidemic in the DRC, and given the government’s limited capacity to respond, the restrictions that the government has introduced to contain the spread of the disease and its impact on food sources and income are expected to persist until at least October.

Lean season: The period from May to September 2020 includes lean season B and the commencement of sowing work for season A in the central-eastern part of the country. Restrictions on people’s movements, especially those of farmers, could prevent maintenance work for the current agricultural season and the preparation of land for the next agricultural season A. This situation could have a detrimental impact on the availability of local produce and encourage an increase in imports to fill any gaps.

Food availability and trade flows: The disruption of trade flows, especially from the neighboring countries of Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Zambia, Angola and Uganda, will result in price increases of around 20 percent for food and will have an impact on poor households’ access to food. In addition, in areas where there has been recent conflict, including Ituri, Tanganyika, North Kivu and southern Kasai, the lockdown measures taken to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic and border closures (with Angola, Uganda, Tanzania and South Sudan) could significantly disrupt trade flows and reduce the incomes of thousands of households who survive on low-level, cross-border trade in these regions and are already vulnerable as a result of significant population movements and limited assistance from humanitarian organizations.

Sources of income: As a result of border closures with neighboring countries, despite official import authorizations for goods, thousands of people who survive on informal trade across these borders and are no longer able to carry out their activities will find themselves extremely vulnerable during the projected period of the pandemic. Urban lockdowns are affecting all activities, including those in the informal sector and odd jobs in urban areas.

Remittances: In terms of remittances to the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), the DRC receives more than any other country. According to an overview of remittances in ECCAS countries, Congolese migrants sent $1.405 billion (COD 83.4 billion) in 2018, or 69 percent of the total amount for that year.

Remittances sent by the diaspora – on which people in the DRC are heavily dependent – are expected to change significantly, due to the lockdowns established in the countries from which they are sent. They may lose this source of income for the duration of the crisis.

Projected Outlook Through September 2020

The period from May to September 2020 includes lean season B and the commencement of sowing work for season A in the eastern part of the DRC. Restrictions on people’s movements, especially those of farmers, could prevent maintenance work for the current agricultural season from being completed on time, as well as the preparation of land for the next agricultural season A. This situation could have a detrimental impact on the availability of local produce and encourage an increase in imports to fill any gaps. In addition, the disruption of trade flows, especially from neighboring countries, is likely to impact food price behavior and poor households’ access to food, as poor households are more dependent on informal cross-border traffic.

Despite official import authorizations for goods, thousands of people who making a living through informal cross-border trade will no longer be able to carry out their activities and will be extremely vulnerable during the projected period of the pandemic, especially households near the borders with Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi. Households’ will also see their access to food significantly curtailed due to their reduced purchasing power as a result of fewer opportunities to work and a decline in remittances.

Taking into account the aforementioned elements and the COVID-19 pandemic (which could continue until October 2020), food security may deteriorate throughout the country, particularly in the northeastern and central-eastern regions that are already affected by various recurrent conflicts. Some households currently in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) may find themselves in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) during the projected period through September 2020, including the territory of Djugu in Ituri.

The current conflict created by the Coalition of Congolese Democrats (CODECO) will continue to cause casualties and provoke new population movements. Due to this situation, food security and nutrition indicators will remain alarming in this region which is plagued by atrocities. Overall, the combined effects of these factors will lead to a decline in agricultural output, resulting in a reduction in the incomes and purchasing power of the population.

In addition, reduced household access to food will lead to a short-term deterioration in food consumption, especially for poor and very poor households, which will use harmful and often irreversible emergency strategies.

Some eastern areas that are experiencing the effects of the protracted crisis may remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3), including the provinces (and territories) of Ituri (Irumu), South Kivu (Uvira, Fizi) and North Kivu. However, the provinces of Tanganyika, Lomami, Sankuru, Kasai Oriental, Kasai, Maniema and the former Katanga, which are trying to stabilize, will be Stressed (IPC Phase 2). On the other hand, the provinces of Haut-Uele, Bas-Uele and Tshopo, which have not experienced significant shocks, will remain in Minimal (IPC Phase 1).

About this Update

This monthly report covers current conditions as well as changes to the projected outlook for food insecurity in this country. It updates FEWS NET’s quarterly Food Security Outlook. Learn more about our work here.

About FEWS NET

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network is a leading provider of early warning and analysis on food insecurity. Created by USAID in 1985 to help decision-makers plan for humanitarian crises, FEWS NET provides evidence-based analysis on approximately 30 countries. Implementing team members include NASA, NOAA, USDA, USGS, and CHC-UCSB, along with Chemonics International Inc. and Kimetrica.
Learn more About Us.

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