The rising number of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in the East Africa region are of unprecedented concern for human health and food security amid conflict, macroeconomic, weather, and desert locust shocks. The indirect impacts of COVID-19 through government interventions to control its spread, including social distancing, movement restrictions, and border closures, have driven a slowdown in economic and trade activity that has led to a sharp decline in household income and, in some cases, contributed to spikes in food prices. Household food access, especially in urban areas, will most likely decline in the near- and medium-term. Household food availability from mid- to late 2020 could also be affected if access to seeds and agricultural inputs becomes constrained. Reductions in household income to purchase food and essential non-food commodities, coupled with limited coping options, are driving an increase in the Stressed (IPC Phase 2), Crisis (IPC Phase 3), and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) populations across the region.
Ongoing macroeconomic shocks and localized conflict and insecurity in Sudan, South Sudan, and Ethiopia continue to be the main driver of rising food prices and restricted household purchasing power. In March, sorghum prices were 200-350 percent above the five-year average in Sudan and South Sudan while the month-on-month price increase was 50 to 100 percent in Addis Ababa. Price spikes related to the impact of COVID-19 have also occurred in some markets in Ethiopia, South Sudan, Rwanda, and Uganda. Despite exemptions from movement restrictions to ensure continuity in the domestic and regional trade of food and essential non-food commodities, enhanced cargo screening procedures as well as temporary market closures, speculative trading, and panic buying have contributed to supply chain disruptions and price increases.
The onset of the March to May seasonal rains in bimodal areas is facilitating timely land preparation and planting for the long-rains season, while also creating conducive conditions for desert locust breeding and development. Swarms are present and likely to spread in northwestern and lowland areas of southern, eastern, and central Ethiopia; northern and central Somalia; northern and central Kenya; northeastern Uganda; southeastern South Sudan; and Yemen. According to the FAO and national governments, surveillance and control measures remain a priority during the pandemic and are ongoing in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Uganda. However, movement and gathering restrictions and delays in pesticide freight shipments present challenges. Food security impacts due to crop and pasture losses from desert locust remain most likely in areas where control measures are limited. Areas of highest concern include insecure areas in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia and there is rising concern for damage to crops in southeastern South Sudan.
Large-scale humanitarian food assistance needs are anticipated to persist in 2020 and will likely reach their peak during the June to September period, driven by the impacts of COVID-19 and macroeconomic shocks on household food access, loss of livelihood assets due to conflict or seasonal floods, and eroded coping capacity from recent multiple shocks. Conflict and insecurity continue to drive protracted and new displacement, limited humanitarian access, and disruptions to market functionality in Yemen, South Sudan, Darfur and South Kordofan states of Sudan, southern Somalia, parts of eastern and southern Ethiopia, and parts of northeastern Kenya. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are most likely in areas of highest concern, while a risk of Famine (IPC Phase 5) is likely to persist in South Sudan and Yemen.