Ethiopia Key Message Update: COVID-19 related restrictions alongside multiple food security drivers limit food access, May 2020
COVID-19 related restrictions, coupled with the broader economic decline, desert locust upsurge, flooding, and general decrease in incomes has led to atypically high humanitarian assistance needs across much of the country. Currently, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are present across central and eastern parts of the country as many poor households are reliant on market foods with below-average incomes. With the anticipated below-average belg harvest, upcoming jalal (dry season) in the Somali region, pasture losses associated with desert locust, and the lean season in Meher-dependent areas, assistance needs are expected to peak between June to September. The largest population facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) is expected in the eastern parts of the country.
- The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases beginning in May started to significantly increase, likely due to increased testing. COVID-19 cases are now being reported across all regions except Gambela. According to the Ministry of Health, as of May 29, there were 968 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 8 associated deaths. However, the true number of these cases is likely higher than reported, mostly due to the low rate of testing. Restriction measures are not significantly limiting the movement of people, especially from Addis Ababa to different regions and to access markets. Despite the limited restriction measures, income-earning activities among poor urban and rural households are constrained due to the decline in the economy. A large number of people are returning from neighboring and Middle Eastern countries, which is adding further pressure on already weak labor markets and assistance provided for resettlement.
- Belg *rainfall has been generally favorable. As of mid-May, area planted for *belg *crops was below average, in part due to the delays in agriculture input distribution associated with COVID-19 restrictions and the slow start of season. *Belg *production is expected to be below average as the result of below-average area planted and spread of desert locust swarms in southern and southwestern parts of the country. On the other hand, *meher 2020 area planted is expected to be average with average kiremt rainfall, although access to fertilizer and improved seeds are expected to be limited.
- Desert locust control and surveillance operations are not expected to fully control or limit the spread of desert locusts in the near- to medium-term. The favorable rainfall has been beneficial for the hatching and multiplication of locusts at a faster rate than protection capacity. According to FAO and the Agricultural Task Force, in the past month, breeding and migration of swarms from rangeland (breeding areas) to cropland areas has occurred in SNNP, Oromia, and Somali regions and recently in western Ethiopia in isolated woredas of Gambela region. Moreover, the current direction of the wind is favoring the movement of swarms from Kenya and Somalia to southern and eastern parts of the country. According to OCHA, the desert locust upsurge and continued proliferation will likely have impacts on crops as it coincides with the maturation of belg crops and the planting season for short-cycle meher crops.
- As the economy has further declined due to impacts of COVID-19, staple food prices are increasing at rates higher than what is seasonally normal for this time of year. In April, maize prices in Hossana market were 20 and 53 percent, and sorghum prices in Dessie market were 33 and 105 percent higher than the same time last year and the five-year average, respectively. Staple food prices are likely to continue increasing through September as market supplies decrease and market demand further increases. This is anticipated to continue to negatively impact the purchasing power of market-dependent households.