Humanitarian food assistance is expected to continue preventing more severe outcomes across parts of the country through at least May 2020, if distributions continue as planned. Even in the presence of humanitarian food assistance, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes persist across much of the eastern half of the country. June to September marks the lean season across Meher-dependent areas, and food assistance needs are expected to be highest in eastern parts of the country driven by the cumulative effects of repeated droughts, conflict, floods, and the desert locust infestation.
The February to May 2020 Belg rains in parts of SNNPR and Genna rains in parts of Oromia had a timely start with average rainfall. However, central Oromia, Rift Valley areas of SNNPR, eastern Amhara, and southern Tigray have received below-average rainfall to start the season. The below-average rainfall in these areas slightly delayed the start of the Belg season and planting for Belg crops. Gu rainfall over southeastern pastoral areas has yet to start; however, rainfall is forecast to be established in late-March and April and be average throughout the season.
According to the North Gondar Agricultural office, as of mid-March, desert locusts spread to some northwestern areas of the country including isolated woredas in Amhara. As January and February are dry across the country, soon after laying eggs, many desert locusts died; however, their progeny have started hatching following favorable breeding conditions in March and will likely continue through April. This is leading to another generation of locusts with higher numbers of locusts than in preceding generations. Thus, the threat from the desert locust remains not only in the lowlands of eastern parts of the country where widespread breeding is in progress and new swarms are starting to form, but also in some lowland central and western parts of the country. This is expected to have localized impacts on Belg and Meher crops. Should, desert locusts migrate towards western parts of the country, this would have devasting impacts on Belg and Meher producing areas.
As of March 30, according to the Ministry of Health, there have been 23 confirmed cases and 188 suspected cases of COVID-19. The government has taken a series of measures since the first case was confirmed to contain the spread of the virus, including closing the border except to those bringing essential goods, closing of schools, and requiring work from home mandates for at least 15 days to all federal and Addis Ababa government employees. These restrictions are likely to have negative impacts on casual labor activities as many of economic activities have largely ceased. In addition to the COVID-19 outbreak, health workers are also battling yellow fever, cholera, and measles outbreaks across the country. The multiple ongoing outbreaks are putting pressure on health systems. Many poor households are likely to face a decision of prioritizing income-earning or health and may have to forego typical food expenditures to purchase medicine.
Prices of staple food have significantly increased in many areas of the country, with a 50 to 100 percent increase on average in Addis Ababa markets between February and March 2020. This is due in part to conflict and insecurity-related restrictions to the movement of staple foods from western surplus producing parts of the country to typical deficit-producing eastern areas. The price increases are also attributed to government measures to restrict movement in response to COVID-19. In response to the price increases, the government has implemented price control measures; however, staple food prices still remain significantly above average due to the depreciation of the currency over time and the poor macroeconomy. High prices continue to limit poor household food access, in particular in urban and eastern deficit-producing areas.