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COVID-19 disease continues to spread amid declines in household purchasing power

  • Remote Monitoring Report
  • Central African Republic
  • June 2020
COVID-19 disease continues to spread amid declines in household purchasing power

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Since May, COVID-19 disease has spread across the country with increased community transmission. Border health checks and transportation restrictions aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19 are linked to slower trade flows. The fall in market supply, seasonal factors, and speculative behavior by traders are leading to atypically high prices for staple food commodities.

    • Due to relative improvement in security and a favorable rainfall forecast from June to September 2020 agricultural production is most likely to be above the five-year average but below the pre-crisis average. However, continued insecurity in eastern CAR, the ongoing cassava disease outbreak, poor access to seeds, and recurrent damage to fields caused by transhumants will likely cause local crop production shortfalls. 

    • Underfunding, COVID-19 preventive measures, and armed group activity continues to with limit humanitarian access and impede the regular delivery of assistance to IDPs and host populations in conflict-affected prefectures. Crisis (IPC phase 3) outcomes will most likely persist in the post-harvest period in areas with a high presence of IDPs, where crop harvests and food assistance are unlikely to be sufficient to meet their minimum food needs.

    • Rising staple food prices are reducing household purchasing power, especially in Bangui. Poor households in urban areas are reducing the size and quality of meals and the number of meals taken per day, indicative of Stressed (IPC Phase 2).





    As of June 29th, 3,429 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed, primarily in Bangui. The observed case-fatality ratio is 1.3 percent. As of June 15th, the positive test rate was 6.7 percent. Cases are linked both to imported cases and community transmissions. Due to low per capita testing, the total case incidence is likely higher than currently known. Hospital capacity for treatment is among the lowest in the world.

    In June, the president permitted places of worship, restaurants, and bars to re-open. Masks are now mandatory in public places. Adherence to social distancing measures is low among the public. Borders remain closed and social distancing is enforced on public transportation.

    Weekly cross-border supply flows from Cameroon recovered to normal levels in May and June. However, local market supply of staple foods in Bangui and rural areas is still low, driving food prices 30-60 percent above June 2019.

    Armed group activity persists, but at lower levels than early 2020 due to the rainy season. Violence was reported in several cities across the country in April and June. Farmer-herder conflict also occurred in Mingala (Basse-Kotto) and Bambouti (Haut-Mbomou). In April, 685,000 people were internally displaced (OCHA, April 30, 2020). On the prefecture level, IDP represent more than 30 percent of the population in Mbomou, Haut-Mbomou, Haute-Kotto, Nana-Gribizi, and Bamingui- Bangoran.

    According to public health experts, the number of COVID-19 cases is likely to rise in the near term due to both the spread of the virus and increased testing. Available projections predict the maximum daily case incidence may peak between July and August (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, 2020).

    The severity of restrictions will likely vary in the near- to medium-term, but government capacity to enforce a lockdown outside of the capital is low. Enhanced health screening procedures for truck drivers at border crossing points will likely continue through late 2020, contributing to variations in imported food supply flows.

    Preventive health measures, seasonal deterioration in road conditions, and speculative trading are likely to contribute to irregular local market supply. As a result, staple food prices will remain high until the end of the lean season in August. The availability of the harvest will most likely drive seasonal declines in staple food prices to levels similar to late 2019. However, imported staple food prices are likely to remain atypically high.

    Based on relatively lower levels of conflict since the start of the planting season in April and the above-average rainfall forecast, 2020 crop production is expected to be above the recent five-year average but still below the pre-conflict average.

    Presidential elections are scheduled to take place in December 2020. The courts ruled the election should not be delayed despite the pandemic. Inter-community tensions will likely be high from the pre-election period through the post-voting period, raising the risk of security incidents and likelihood that more households will experience displacement.



    A relative decline in the conflict events since the start of the agricultural season in April has facilitated cultivation activities in most areas. Despite a slight delay in the establishment of the rainfall season that resulted in early-season rainfall deficits, rainfall accumulation and temporal distribution since May has been favorable for crop production prospects. According to satellite-derived CHIRPS preliminary data, rainfall in June was above-average except in the east. In the southwest, maize and peanut crops are already nearing maturation for the green harvest in June/July. While national crop production is anticipated to be above the recent five-year average, local crop production shortfalls are likely in localities where households faced seed shortages after the 2019 floods, lost their seed stocks because of fires during the January-March dry season, or fled their homes due to attacks by armed groups, such as in Vagaka and Bamingui-Bangoran prefectures. Additionally, access to rural extension services is more limited than usual due to the spread of COVID-19. Further, the cassava disease outbreak continues to spread in and around Kémo prefecture – which is typically a highly productive cropping zone – and will likely result in below-normal perennial cassava yields. To cope, some producers are planting alternative crops such as corn, yam, and tarot.

    To date, the known spread of COVID-19 in Bangui and rural areas is still low, resulting in few known, direct impacts to urban and rural households’ health or food security. However, key informants report that people are avoiding going to health facilities out of fear of contracting COVID-19. As there is already an ongoing measles epidemic and since the rainy season typically leads to an annual peak in malaria and water-borne disease incidence, the avoidance of healthcare services could lead to atypical increases in mortality and malnutrition.

    With few movement restrictions in place, the indirect impacts of COVID-19 on food security are primarily limited to an earlier slowdown in cross-border and domestic trade flows and some decline in economic activity in urban areas. The flow of imported goods from Cameroon has improved since the end of May, due to more efficient screening/testing procedures that have helped to reduce truck drivers’ waiting times at the border. In mid-June, the weekly number of commercial cargo trucks was similar to the same period of last year (ICASEES, June 2020). However, social distancing guidelines on public transportation slows the movement of small, informal traders between Bangui and interior cities. In addition, producers who fear a suspension of aid due to COVID-19 are selling less of their own-produced stocks. As a result, local market supply is low.

    Low market supply and speculative behavior by traders are exacerbating other seasonal factors that typically drive higher food prices during the lean season. In June, the price of a cuvette (bowl) of imported corn, rice, or beans ranged from 30-57 percent on average above June 2019. Similarly, the price of a cuvette of cassava or sorghum was 22-80 percent above June 2019. Compared to other reference markets, prices are highest in Bangui, Ndélé (Bamingui-Bangoran), and Obo and Zémio (Haut-Mbomou) (Figure 1). Compared to March, which marked the start of the pandemic, average price variations are 81 percent for imported rice, 46 percent for corn, 74 percent for cassava, 51 percent for beans, 38 percent for sorghum and 7 percent for oil.

    In May, WFP distributed food (3,490 mt) and cash (USD 513,126) to 649,822 people across the country (WFP, May 2020). To limit the spread of COVID-19, humanitarian partners are increasingly shifting to cash transfer modalities or adjusting the periods of food distribution. While prefecture-level distribution information is limited, available situation updates indicate Oxfam distributed protective food rations to 2,288 households in the Batangafo sub-prefecture in Ouham in June (OCHA, June 2020). Due to underfunding of food assistance, logistical constraints, and insecurity, only 60 percent of planned assistance was delivered from February to May. Additionally, insecurity prevented regular assistance delivery in the Batangafo, Birao, Bria, Ndélé, and Obo areas. The overall humanitarian response is still 28 percent underfunded (OCHA, June 2020).

    Given annually low levels of household food stocks and high staple food prices, poor populations in rural areas are heavily relying on wild foods and hunting during the lean season. Their income comes mainly from agricultural labor or petty trading of wild fruits and vegetable, animal, and fish products. In areas where access to gathering places and fields is restricted due to conflict – specifically in Bamingui-Bangoran, Vakaga, Haut-Mbomou, Mbomou, and Basse-Kotto prefectures – households are more reliant on irregular food assistance. Even in the post-harvest period, insecurity and anticipated inter-communal tensions associated with elections could continue to impede households’ access to fields and limit food assistance deliveries. As a result, sub-prefectures with a strong presence of IDPs will most likely remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) through January.

    In central, southern, and western CAR, where conditions are calmer and perennial crop production is higher, the maize and peanut harvest is starting to permit most poor households to meet their minimum food needs. Stressed (IPC phase 2) outcomes are likely until the start of the main harvest in September. From September to January, replenished household food stocks will allow the majority of poor households to have Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes. In urban areas, COVID-19 restrictions have led to the suspension or loss of jobs, especially for workers in bars and restaurants, leisure centers and teachers following the closure of schools. While some have been able to adapt by working in motorcycle-taxi transport and construction labor, others are unemployed or are making and selling protective masks. Rising prices and declining purchasing power are forcing the poor to reduce the size and quality of meal portions or the number of meals eaten per day. Some of the worst-affected households are likely to be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) through at least August, when the availability of the main harvest is anticipated to improve market supply and reduce food prices. Overall, however, below-normal household income is expected to keep most urban poor Stressed (IPC Phase 2) through January.

    Figures Rainy season is from April through June in the south and from July through September in the North. Planting is from April thr

    Figure 1

    Seasonal calendar for a typical year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure showing price trends in select staple food commodities, January-June 2020 compared to January-June 2019, Bangui

    Figure 2

    Figure 1

    Source: FEWS NET

    In remote monitoring, a coordinator typically works from a nearby regional office. Relying on partners for data, the coordinator uses scenario development to conduct analysis and produce monthly reports. As less data may be available, remote monitoring reports may have less detail than those from countries with FEWS NET offices. Learn more about our work here.

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