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Ethiopia Key Message Update: Conflict, weather shocks, and poor macroeconomic conditions drive persistent high needs in 2021, March 2021

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Key Messages:

The continued conflict and state of emergency in Tigray Region are driving low levels of economic activity and continued displacement. According to OCHA, levels of displacement continue to increase across the region, most notably in Shire, with 1,000 people arriving in Shire town daily, mainly from western Tigray. However, labor migration – which is typically a critical income source among poor households at this time of year – remains significantly limited, due to constraints on population movement. Marginal improvements in market functioning and economic activity have been observed in March, according to ground reports; however, low income and high food prices continue to constrain food access. According to the Ethiopian government, humanitarian assistance has been distributed to over 4 million people as of mid-March. However, continued access constraints, especially in remote areas, along with insecurity, which limits population movement, and imprecise targeting, are likely limiting the reach of assistance. Given that current conditions are likely to continue, with limited household income and difficulty accessing all populations in need of assistance, widespread Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are expected to persist through at least September across much of Tigray. It is vital that humanitarian access constraints be resolved and large-scale assistance - including food, nutrition, and WASH - be delivered. This assistance is needed to prevent households from facing extreme food consumption gaps and avert excess mortality and associated high levels of acute malnutrition.

The poor start to the belg season is negatively impacting agricultural activities in southern areas of Tigray. In the rest of Tigray, which depends on June to September kiremt rainfall for production, rainfall has yet to start. Kiremt rainfall is expected to start on time in June, with above-average rainfall most likely. This is expected to facilitate household engagement in agricultural activities; however, some disruption to typical agricultural activities is likely due to conflict and constrained access to agricultural inputs, which will likely undermine cultivation for the upcoming meher harvest. Assuming some agricultural activities occur and the forecast for favorable kiremt rainfall holds, continued large-scale assistance is needed through at least September, after which households will likely start consuming foods from own production. Although, if households are unable to engage in agricultural activities for the 2021 season, large-scale assistance will need to be sustained beyond the projection period.

Belg rainfall has been significantly below average across most areas, with rainfall yet to start in some belg receiving-areas of Amhara, Tigray, Oromia, and the Rift Valley of SNNPR. According to remote sensing imagery, cumulative belg rainfall is only 25 to 50 percent of average in some areas. Due to the poor rainfall, engagement in land preparation and planting is well below average. In areas of Amhara and Tigray, seeds planted in dry soil prior to the start of rainfall have failed due to inadequate rainfall. Additionally, gu rainfall has yet to start in some southern and southeastern pastoral areas. If belg or gu rains do not begin in the coming weeks, there is an increased risk of crop failure and minimal pasture development.

Southern and southeastern pastoral areas are facing a shortage of pasture, browse, and water as rainfall has yet to begin. While some improvement in pasture and water availability is anticipated with the start of the gu, pasture and water availability are expected to remain low with the forecast below-average rainfall. This is expected to lead to higher-than-normal livestock migration immediately following the gu and persisting through the hagaa (August to September dry season). The atypical livestock migration will likely drive a decline in livestock body conditions and milk production. Due to consecutive poor seasons and continued below-normal livestock productivity and below-average purchasing power, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected among many poor households.

Many areas of eastern Oromia, areas within the Rift Valley in SNNPR, eastern Amhara, and Afar are in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). This is due to many poor households having little to no food stocks and being market reliant but with below-average purchasing power. The poor start of the belg season is leading to continued low agricultural labor opportunities. Moreover, sporadic conflict in Oromia, Amhara, and a few other areas of the country has also contributed to the decline in labor income in areas affected by conflict. In addition, the low market value of livestock in Afar, coupled with high food prices, is driving low household purchasing power.

Prices of most staple foods are significantly higher than last year and the five-year average, primarily due to the below-average 2020 meher harvest and poor macroeconomic conditions marked by a high annual inflation rate. According to the Ethiopian Trade and Business Corporation, maize prices in February in the central market, Addis Ababa, increased by 11 percent since January and are nearly 100 percent higher than the last five-year average. According to the Amhara regional DRM, in Woldia market, sorghum prices in February were nearly 20 percent above the same time last year and over 50 percent above the five-year average.