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East Africa Key Message Update: Conflict and poor rainfall, among other shocks, are worsening food insecurity in the region (May 2021)

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Situation Report
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Key Messages

  • Conflict, weather, and macroeconomic shocks continue to drive acute food insecurity in East Africa, where Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes are widespread. Food insecurity is most severe in Tigray region of Ethiopia, South Sudan, and western Yemen, where an end to conflict, full humanitarian access, and the sustained scale-up of food and nutrition assistance are urgently needed to save lives and prevent extreme outcomes. FEWS NET estimates that up to 50 million people need food assistance across the region, including in refugee settlements where food assistance has been cut by up to 30 percent in 2021. The food insecure population is expected to rise further from June to September, which overlaps with the main lean season in western Ethiopia, Sudan, and South Sudan and the pastoral lean season in the eastern Horn.

  • Conflict continues to cause loss of life, displace populations, and prevent or erode households’ ability to access key income and food sources in Ethiopia, South Sudan, Yemen, and southern Somalia. Specifically, conflict is limiting or preventing household access to fields, livestock, and income-generating activities, disrupting trade and market functioning, driving up food prices, and constraining humanitarian access. In Ethiopia, the conflict in Tigray region has displaced over 1.6 million people since November and led to Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes with households in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5), which is associated with large to extreme food consumption gaps and severe acute malnutrition. Conflict and displacement are also occurring in Amhara, Oromia, and Benishangul Gumuz regions. The impacts of conflict also remain of very high concern in Marib and northwestern Yemen and in South Sudan’s Greater Upper Nile, Warrap-Lakes-Unity, and Greater Equatoria regions.

  • In Somalia, northern and eastern Kenya, and southern and southeastern Ethiopia, drought at the peak of the March to May rainfall season has led to poor crop and livestock production prospects for a second consecutive season. For example, the 2021 *gu *cereal harvest in southern Somalia is projected to be 20-40 below the historical average. Furthermore, available climate forecast models indicate an increased likelihood of below-average rainfall during the October to December 2021 season, which would result in a three-season drought. Under this scenario, the loss of crops and agricultural labor income, loss of some livestock due to pasture and water scarcity, rising food and water prices, and an uptick in resource-based conflict are anticipated to drive an increase in the population in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) through at least late 2021. Multi-season droughts have historically led to extreme food insecurity in the eastern Horn, including in 2010/2011 and 2016/2017.

  • Macroeconomic challenges persist across much of the region due to multiple factors, including but not limited to inflation, high fuel costs, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Economic activity is generally lower than normal, driven by the enforcement and easing of COVID-19 restrictions. These factors continue to contribute to high staple food prices and limit household purchasing power among both urban and rural households, especially in Ethiopia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Yemen. In Sudan, for example, cereal and wheat prices were up to six times higher than five-year average in April. As a result, the share of poor, urban households that are Stressed (IPC Phase 2) or in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) remains atypically high in the broader region, given that they purchase most of their food, are sensitive to price shocks, and rely on income from sectors affected by the pandemic, such as the hospitality industry and petty trade.