South Sudan and Somalia Facing Famine Conditions

New reports from FEWS Net and the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) are highlighting the ongoing threat of famine in South Sudan. According to the IPC report, released on February 20, almost 5 million people are estimated to be in need of humanitarian food assistance; this accounts for 42 percent of South Sudan’s population. An estimated 100,000 people are facing localized famine conditions (IPC Phase 5-level food insecurity).  

The areas with the highest proportions of people in Crisis (IPC Phase 3), Emergency (IPC Phase 4), and Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) food insecurity are Northern Bahr el Ghazal and Unity States. In Unity State, famine has been declared in Leer and Mayendit counties and is likely in Koch County; IPC reports that famine in Panyijar County can only be averted if humanitarian food assistance is delivered as planned.  

Ongoing civil conflict is behind the deterioration of South Sudan’s food security, according to both reports. Since July 2016, nearly two million people have become internally displaced and over 450,000 people have fled the country. Conflict has disrupted planting and harvesting, thus limiting many households’ access to food and income. FEWS Net reports that 2016 staple food production was below average in many areas.  

In areas particularly hard hit by conflict, humanitarian aid has become the main source of food; however, according to the IPC, humanitarian access has been severely restricted in these areas, meaning that crucial food aid cannot reach those most in need. In the Southern part of Unity State, one in three children is now acutely malnourished.

Several macroeconomic factors are also in play in the country’s dramatic food price increases. Oil revenues have plunged since 2014, leading to a sharp drop in foreign currency reserves and a devaluation of the South Sudan pound. Normal trade flows have been disrupted both into South Sudan and from the capital to other areas of the country; this has led to reduced food availability in many local markets. As a result, food prices in many areas have risen to record levels; in some areas, retail sorghum prices are four times higher than those seen in the previous year and are 10 to 15 times higher than in November 2013, before the outbreak of conflict.

FEWS Net predicts that food security will deteriorate further during the lean season (February-July). Under a worst case scenario, with increasing conflict further disrupting livelihoods, more widespread famine is possible in South Sudan during 2017.

Somalia is also at risk of famine in 2017, according to FEWS Net. Failed rains in October-December 2016 have severely hampered food availability; some parts of the country received less than 40 percent of the usual seasonal rainfall. In 2016, the Bay Region experienced the driest calendar year since 2001, while the Bari Region saw the driest year since 1985.

Both crop and livestock production have suffered from the low rainfall. According to FEWS Net, food security in Somalia will likely continue to deteriorate in the coming months; the 2017 Gu rainfall season, starting in April, is also currently forecast to be poor, which will further decrease food security in the country. If low precipitation continues, households will see a further decline in their purchasing power; in this scenario, if humanitarian aid cannot reach needy populations in sufficient levels, FEWs Net forecasts possible famine, especially in the southern agricultural and agropastoral areas and northeastern pastoral areas.

By: Sara Gustafson, IFPRI

Photo credit:John Ferguson/Oxfam