Food Insecurity Continues in East Africa Due to Weather, Conflict
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Ethiopia continues to face increased food insecurity, despite heavy rains in April that have improved prospects for the 2016 Belg harvest, according to the latest regional alert from FEWS Net.

Following the late start and poor performance of the Belg rainfall throughout March, precipitation did increase throughout April, leading to reduced rainfall deficits. Late planting will still delay harvests in SNNPR, but the national Belg harvests are expected to be average to only slightly below average; additional expected rainfall over the next few weeks will continue to improve water sources, improve pastures, and allow for timely planting of Meher crops, particularly cash crops.

However, the drought conditions stemming from the 2015-2016 El Niño cycle significantly reduced harvests and livestock deaths and reduced households’ access to both food and cash income throughout the country. As a result, an estimated 10.2 million people will still need food aid in 2016.

The worst-affected areas include Wag Himra, East and West Hararghe, and the pastoral areas of Shinile and southern Afar; the report expects Emergency (IPC Phase 4) food security conditions to continue through at least September 2016 in these areas.

Cereal prices have generally been stable over the past several months, but remain significantly higher than last year’s levels. Households have seen cash income from the sales of chat, livestock, livestock products, and coffee decline, and both wage labor opportunities and wage rates have fallen in East and West Hararghe and parts of SNNPR due to large numbers of people looking for casual labor to supplement their farm income.

This combination of reduced production, high food prices, and falling household incomes means high levels of food insecurity in many areas. At the national level, admissions of malnourished children under five years of age into Therapeutic Feeding Programs increased 14 percent between January and February 2016, and as much as 47 percent between February 2015 and February 2016. The report also highlights the need for significant increases in humanitarian aid; current contributions have only funded half of the country’s identified food needs, and transfers from the country’s Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP) typically end in June. This means that without additional funding, a majority of assistance will end just as the lean season peaks between June and September.

The report also finds that approximately 1.7 million households will need seeds for the Meher planting, which should take place between April and July. While approximately 600,000 households have received seeds under current funding, another 1.1 million households remain untargeted. Households that are unable to plant normal Meher levels could continue to face food insecurity and decreased incomes even after the lean season ends in September.

Elsewhere in East Africa, conflict is also posing threats to food security. In the Greater Upper Nile region of South Sudan, the population is expected to remain in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) acute food insecurity throughout the spring and summer, while parts of South Sudan’s central Unity State are expected to ace Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) food insecurity. These threats are being driven by very high staple food prices caused by restricted trade, sporadic violence, and the depreciation of the South Sudanese pound.

In Sudan, conflict in Darfur has displaced approximately 130,000 people since January; these populations are facing restricted access to humanitarian aid, markets, and labor opportunities. As a result, Central and South Darfur and parts of South Kordofan are experiencing Emergency (IPC Phase 4) levels of food insecurity. 

By: Sara Gustafson, IFPRI

Photo credit:Flickr: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam