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COVID-19 poses a risk of worsening food insecurity during the 2020 lean season

  • Key Message Update
  • Central African Republic
  • March 2020
COVID-19 poses a risk of worsening food insecurity during the 2020 lean season

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Starting in March, the lean season began early in eastern CAR, marked by the depletion of household food stocks from own production and rising staple food prices. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes persist in conflict-affected areas, where market functioning remains compromised and income-generating activities are often disrupted by conflict. In these areas, poor households have difficult purchasing their minimum food needs and are intensifying their reliance on wild food products, including yams, wild potatoes, and mangoes.

    • Security conditions in Birao, Ndélé, Bria, and Kaga-Bandoro have deteriorated over the past two months, where attacks by armed groups caused 13,500 people to be internally displaced and caused 3,000 people to flee to Sudan. In addition, transhumants traveling from Cameroon and Chad through CAR’s livestock migration corridors are reportedly responsible for causing damage to local farmers’ fields and setting fires in dry conditions. In March, approximately 41 homes and 38 fields were reportedly set on fire in the areas of Bouca, Batangafo, and Kabo in Ouham prefecture. In contrast, security conditions remain relatively calm in CAR’s western prefectures, where UNHCR’s voluntary repatriation program has assisted 661 returnees since the start of the year.

    • At the start of the lean season, household market dependence is high and staple food prices are rising even higher than normal due to the combined effects of conflict, the 2019 floods, and cassava disease on market supply. The dry season has also been hotter and drier than usual, which has negatively affected vegetable production. In March, staple food prices were at least 50 percent above March 2019, particularly in Ndélé, Bangui, Kaga-Bandoro, and Berberati markets. In Ndélé specifically, prices have doubled for all food products. In contrast, ongoing food assistance deliveries in Haute-Kotto (Bria), Mbomou (Bangassou), Haut-Mbomou (Obo), and Ouaka (Bambari) have likely contributed to a decline in staple food prices, ranging from 25 to 50 percent compared to March 2019; the exception is the price of imported rice, which is rising.

    • As of March 30th, there are six confirmed cases of COVID-19 in CAR. The spread of COVID-19 poses significant risks to health, food security, and security conditions in the country. The potential infection rate is of high concern in the short and medium term, due to very limited public health, water, and sanitation infrastructure, as well as the ongoing conflict and limited capacity of authorities to implement preventive measures. Current restrictions to limit the spread of COVID-19 include a two-week ban on the entry of foreigners into the country, with exemptions for NGO workers, and the suspension of non-critical MINUSCA movements.

    • On March 18th, Cameroon closed its borders to limit the spread of COVID-19. Although the border closures exempt essential cargo including food commodities, it is possible that additional entry and screening procedures at the CAR-Cameroon border will slow down formal import flows. This could lead to a decline in local market supply of some food products within CAR in the medium term, such as imported rice, beans, and chicken. A reduction in market supply would likely cause prices for these products to rise even higher, which would further reduce the purchasing power of market-dependent households during the lean season.

    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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