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Ethiopia Facing Emergency-Level Food Insecurity

Worsening conflict in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia has disrupted food access and threatened incomes for thousands of households, according to a recent emergency alert from FEWS Net. Displaced populations, both within Tigray and in neighboring Afar and Amhara Regions and Sudan, are in need of urgent food assistance; these needs are expected to persist at least through late 2021.

 

The latest wave of conflict began in November, during the main meher harvest season. While harvests have been able to proceed in some rural areas, many rural households have abandoned their crops in an attempt to avoid the fighting or cannot access their fields due to the conflict. New mandates restricting movement and disrupted regional trade flows have also impacted economic activity in the region, and livestock sales by middle-income and high-income households have slowed.

 

All of these factors have had a significant negative impact on incomes and food security. The majority of poor households in Tigray rely on subsistence farming for their food consumption needs; many also earn their income through agricultural labor, much of which requires migration to surplus-producing areas in the western part of the region. Reduced livestock sales have had knock-on effects for the entire local economy, as better-off households are hiring less local agricultural labor.

 

Compounding poor households’ falling incomes are skyrocketing food prices. Prices were already above average before the latest outbreak of conflict in November, and further disruptions to trade in the region have only driven them higher.

 

Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP) has not been able to reach the area to distribute food assistance to Tigray’s 1 million PSNP recipients. These disruptions to the assistance program are expected to continue in the medium term, likely through mid-2021. Further coordination and cooperation between the federal and regional government is needed to ensure humanitarian access to affected areas.

 

While FEWS Net estimates that most poor households in Tigray have likely been able to meet their immediate food needs due to the recent harvest, Crisis (IPC Phase 3)-level food insecurity is expected in several urban, peri-urban, and even rural areas of Tigray, Amhara, and Afar. In addition, populations that typically rely on the PSNP for food assistance may be facing Emergency (IPC Phase 4) conditions. The report calls for urgent action to scale up food and humanitarian assistance in the region.