Last updated:

Ethiopia Humanitarian Crisis

Support recovery now

Ethiopia is Africa's oldest independent country and its second-most populous. The country made important development gains in last decade in education, health, food security and economic growth.

At the beginning of 2024, Ethiopia is “on the verge of a major humanitarian situation due to cycles of multiple, often overlapping crises, which severely weakens communities’ ability to cope,” according to a Jan. 10 Ethiopia Situation Report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA).

The 2024 Ethiopia Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) seeks $3.23 billion from donors to reach over 15 million people. The HRP says, Ethiopia continues “to face a major humanitarian crisis caused by climate shocks, disease outbreaks, conflict and insecurity, aggravated by economic and financial challenges.”

Ethiopia remains among the countries of highest concern for the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET). Levels of acute food insecurity are most severe in the northern and southern regions. Fear of famine in Tigray is growing where the war left the region in extreme poverty. Ethiopia’s ombudsman office said in January 2024 that hundreds had died due to starvation in Tigray and Amhara in the past six months.

Famine is a highly technical classification that meets specific criteria. It is a complex problem, but much can be done before hunger becomes a catastrophic crisis, including early action to prevent food insecurity and famine. While short-term relief is needed to save lives, protecting people’s livelihoods and restoring their dignity are also required to help avoid future famines.

(Photo: USAID is responding to growing humanitarian needs in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. Source: USAID via @USAIDSavesLives)

The drought situation is worsening in some parts of northern, southern and southeastern Ethiopia and UNOCHA warned in December 2023 that the situation “will deteriorate further unless aid is scaled up.”

While some northern and southeastern areas experience a lack of rain and crop failure, parts of the Somali Region and western areas of the country have received heavy rains resulting in flooding which also negatively impacts livelihoods.

A peace deal signed by the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front in November 2022 ended a two-year war that displaced millions and created dire humanitarian conditions in the Tigray region. Since July 2023, the Ethiopian military and militias have clashed in towns throughout the Amhara region.  

Since November 2020, forces under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali had been fighting to oust the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) from its stronghold in the northern region of Tigray. Tensions had been growing since Abiy took power in 2018, and the feud reached a boiling point in September 2020 “when the Tigrayans held regional parliamentary elections in defiance of Abiy, who had postponed the vote across Ethiopia.”

While acknowledging the visible progress since the November 2022 peace deal, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, said in February 2023, “much more needs to be done to support the reconstruction and recovery efforts in the Afar, Amhara and Tigray regions.”

Key facts
  • Following five consecutive poor rainy seasons, Ethiopia endured its most severe and protracted drought in recent history from 2021-2023. Millions of people and livestock have been affected by the drought, with reports of alarming food insecurity and rising malnutrition.
  • As of April 2023, more than 6.8 million livestock had died as a result of the drought since late 2021 with livelihoods severely impacted.
  • In January 2024, the head of the Ethiopian Institution of the Ombudsman, which receives complaints from the public against government departments, said investigations found that 351 people had died in the Tigray region, while another 21 had died in neighboring Amhara in the last six months.
  • A seasonal assessment and joint prioritization process in early 2024 identified a yearly target for food assistance of 10.4 million people.
  • In Amhara alone, more than 2.5 million children are estimated to be out of school because of the impact of the Northern Ethiopia conflict (2020-2022) and ongoing armed hostilities.
  • Following the outbreak of armed conflict in Sudan on April 15, 2023, Ethiopia is receiving thousands of forcibly displaced people from Sudan. More than 108,000 people had fled Sudan into Ethiopia as of Jan. 31, 2024.
  • In 2023, donors provided 33.5% of $4 billion requested to fully fund Ethiopia’s Humanitarian Response Plan for that year. According to UNOCHA in February 2024, “Resource availability now, than later will support the multi-sectoral response scale-up and reduce suffering for millions of people.”
Conflict and violence

In addition to climate-driven emergencies and economic conditions, conflict continues to be a primary driver of humanitarian needs, displacing thousands of people.

In Amhara, forces were allies of the government during the war between November 2020 and November 2022. However, when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced his plan to disband the “special forces” clashes between Amhara forces and the government erupted. Amhara was put under a state of emergency by the government due to the deadly fighting. On Feb. 2, 2024, Ethiopia’s parliament extended by four months the state of emergency declared in August.

According to the Ethiopia Peace Observatory Weekly Update published on Jan. 31, 2024, “protests by internally displaced people (IDP) were reported in multiple locations in Tigray region, while fighting between Fano militia and the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) persisted in Amhara region.” Clashes were also reported between the ENDF and Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) in Oromia region.

On Nov. 12, 2022, military leaders from the warring sides signed an accord in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, to implement the truce signed earlier in the month. The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Nov. 15, 2022, that a convoy of trucks carrying medicine arrived in Tigray’s regional capital Mekele, the first aid delivery by the group to the region since August 2022.

Following the first in-person talks since the peace deal was signed between Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Tigrayan leaders on Feb. 3, 2023, the Ethiopian government transferred funds to Tigray’s capital as it starts to restore banking services there.

However, one year on from the signing of the truce, many people were unable to return to areas of Tigray controlled by forces allied with the federal government even though the fighting has ended. As reported by The New Humanitarian in November 2023, the peace deal remains unfinished and thousands of former fighters have not received proper support.

Representatives from Ethiopia’s government and Tigray held talks in March 2024 to try and resolve lingering issues about the implementation of the ceasefire agreement.

Human rights abuses have been documented against all parties to the conflict. On Nov. 2, 2023, Human Rights Watch said, “Fighting and serious rights abuses persist in northern Ethiopia a year after the signing of the cessation of hostilities agreement.”

A Human Rights Watch report from December 2021 said Tigrayan rebels fighting Ethiopia’s government carried out dozens of executions against civilians.

In another report released in April 2022, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said Amhara regional security forces in Ethiopia’s Western Tigray Zone committed widespread abuses against Tigrayans since November 2020. In June 2023, Human Rights Watch announced local authorities and Amhara forces in Western Tigray Zone continued an ethnic cleansing campaign against Tigrayans since the Nov. 2, 2022 truce agreement.

Eritrea, a heavily militarized one-party state often dubbed “the North Korea of Africa,” entered the conflict to fight against its long-time enemy, the TPLF. The November 2022 deal between the TPLF and Ethiopian government did not address the status of Eritrean troops. Days before that deal was signed, soldiers from neighboring Eritrea massacred more than 300 villagers.

Despite the peace deal in November 2022, Eritrean troops remained in some border areas as of early August 2023, and the Irob community is suffering as a result. The Irob speak their own language and mostly live in the northeastern part of Tigray. Activists say Eritrean troops continued to loot livestock and kidnap people in Irob.

Aid workers are not immune to violence. In June 2021, three Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) staff were killed in Tigray. On April 12, 2023, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) announced that two of its staff members were killed in a CRS vehicle in the Amhara region.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies published a statement on Jan. 12, 2024, condemning the killing of an Ethiopian Red Cross staff member in Tigray. The statement reiterated that: “Healthcare workers must be respected and protected in every situation.”

The Norwegian Nobel Committee, which awarded the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize to Prime Minister Abiy after the signing of a peace deal with Eritrea that ended two decades of hostilities, issued a rare rebuke of an honoree in January 2022 saying he “has a special responsibility to end the conflict and help to create peace.”


The primary shocks that have led to protracted displacement in Ethiopia are related to ethnic and/or territorial conflict and drought.

According UNHCR, there were 3.5 million IDPs in Ethiopia as of February 2024. Most IDPs are in Somali, Oromia and Tigray regions. IDPs, returning IDPs and returning migrants are among the priority population groups identified for humanitarian assistance by the 2024 HRP, showing the significant impact the crisis has had on displaced people.

Ethiopia is also one of the largest refugee-hosting countries in Africa, with more than 970,000 refugees and asylum seekers in the country as of February 2024. The refugees are mainly from South Sudan, Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia.

Since the outbreak of fighting in Sudan on April 15, 2023, more than 116,369 people had fled Sudan into Ethiopia as of March 10, 2024.

Disasters also cause displacement. More than 40,000 people in Gambela and southern Ethiopia regions were displaced from heavy rains and floods in September 2023. Flooding in the Somali region due to the heavy rainfall in the upper streams as a result of wetter conditions, brought on by El-Nino, displaced 400,000 at the end of 2023.


Ethiopia is grappling with its worst drought since 1981. The March to May 2022 rainy season in the Horn of Africa was likely the driest on record.

In a drought flash update published on Dec. 22, 2023, UNOCHA said, “The drought situation is worsening in some parts of northern, southern, and southeastern Ethiopia and is expected to deteriorate further unless aid is urgently scaled up.”

More specifically, areas of concern according to FEWS NET include Tigray and northeastern Amhara, where the meher harvest (a temporary crop harvested between the months of September and February) failed due to drought.

Communities’ ability to cope with the effects of the drought is hampered by the lingering effects of the devastating northern conflict and other hostilities. The sale of livestock and other assets are examples of negative coping mechanisms people are forced to resort to in order to survive.

UNOCHA and humanitarian partners have identified the most vulnerable and drought-impacted people to include women, children, older adults, people with a disability and IDPs, all of whom require emergency life-saving assistance as of February 2024.

More than 6.8 million livestock have died as a result of the drought since late 2021, with livelihoods severely impacted. The drought has had severe consequences for women and children. Sexual violence, sexual exploitation, intimate partner violence, early marriage and female genital mutilation have increased during the drought crisis, while services remain limited.

Food insecurity

The WFP estimates 20.1 million people need food support. Millions of people and livestock are affected by the drought, with reports of alarming food insecurity and rising malnutrition. Malnutrition rates among children in parts of Afar, Amhara and Oromia regions range between 15.9% and 47%, according to the AP citing the Ethiopia Nutrition Cluster.

The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) is a common scale for classifying the severity and magnitude of food insecurity and acute malnutrition. The scale includes five phases, with Phase 1 meaning there is no or minimal acute food insecurity and Phase 5 meaning famine has been reached.

According to FEWS NET in their December 2023 food security outlook update, Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes, “which are already occurring in parts of eastern, southern, and central Tigray, are expected to become more widespread across Tigray from February to May. Households that did not harvest and have limited access to social support and humanitarian food assistance likely face Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5).”

While the Tigray region is more peaceful in 2024, extreme hunger is persistent and affects children in particular. While Tigray’s food insecurity has received significant attention, the south also experiences acute food insecurity with Phase 3 and 4 outcomes expected through May 2024.

Source: FEWS NET

Complicating the ability of some humanitarian organizations to provide food assistance is the theft of food. Following an internal investigation that revealed food theft meant for hungry people in Tigray, WFP announced in April 2023 it was suspending aid deliveries to the northern region. The U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Administrator Samantha Power said USAID-funded food assistance to the Tigray region is on pause until further notice.

The suspension of food aid by the UN and the U.S. affected 20 million people. Since food aid was first suspended in Tigray in March 2023, local officials and researchers say hunger killed at least 700 people in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region as of early August.

In October 2023, WFP announced it had resumed distribution of food to roughly 900,000 refugees across Ethiopia after revamping safeguards and controls. In November 2023, USAID announced plans to restart food aid deliveries across Ethiopia and described wide-ranging new reforms in handling of food aid. USAID said it reintroduced reforms to improve the registration of beneficiaries and the tracking of donated grain.

Despite the UN and U.S. pauses being lifted, Tigray authorities say food is not reaching those who need it. One aid worker told the AP the food aid pause and the slow resumption meant some people in Tigray had not received food aid for over a year.

During a complex humanitarian emergency (CHE), critical needs include shelter; food; water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH); health care; education and protection of at-risk populations. These needs will continue through the course of the CHE.

Food assistance and livelihood support

During the 2016-2017 drought in the Horn of Africa, catastrophe was avoided through early action. Scaling up assistance before widespread hunger arrived saved lives.

More food assistance is needed at the start of 2024. According to FEWS NET, “The gradual resumption of food assistance deliveries by early 2024 is expected to moderate the size of kilocalorie deficits among beneficiaries, but not yet at a scale and frequency that would prevent high levels of food insecurity.”

While immediate food assistance is needed to ensure that hungry people do not enter more serious and life-threatening stages of acute food insecurity, investments in livelihoods and resilience are also needed.

According to the 2024 HRP, “The recovery from the last drought is expected to take multiple years, and in absence of strong recovery interventions in drought affected areas, these will be more vulnerable to shocks with large numbers of people remaining in protracted need of humanitarian assistance.”

Replacing livestock lost during the drought, supplying agricultural inputs for off-season crops, providing cash assistance to the most vulnerable households, improving access to clean water and investing in small enterprises are examples of actions that can support livelihoods and strengthen resilience.


Ethiopia has been repeatedly affected by conflict, flooding, drought and disease outbreaks in the past years, which creates the conditions for worsening health indicators and rising malnutrition rates.

Against this backdrop, the Ethiopia Health Cluster Strategy 2024-2025 will strengthen advocacy for longer-term, development funding to address root causes of recurrent disease outbreaks, and advocate for increased access to quality health services.

On Sept. 16, 2022, the Ethiopia Ministry of Health declared a cholera outbreak in the Harana Buluk and Berbere woredas of Bale Zone, Oromia Region. The first case was reported on Aug. 27, 2022, in Harana Buluk woreda of Bale zone in Southern Oromia region. A woreda is the third level of administrative division in Ethiopia.

In their May 11, 2023, Ethiopia Cholera Outbreak Flash Update, UNOCHA reported that the cholera outbreak had spread to SNNP and Sidama Regions. As of January 2024, 11 woredas were reporting active cholera cases. In a bulletin published on Dec. 1, 2023, the World Health Organization said cholera had spread due to the floods. WHO recorded a 12% increase in number of cholera deaths during November when compared to the preceding month, with 28,333 cholera cases reported as of Nov. 29, 2023.

The use of unsafe water from contaminated water points is the most likely cause of the outbreak. Outbreak mitigation and response are ongoing, but the response needs to be scaled up. Ethiopia prepared its National Cholera Elimination Plan which aims to achieve interruption of cholera cases (zero cases) in cholera hotspot areas by 2028. As of January 2024, the Ethiopian Public Health Institute, with support from UN agencies, was conducting a measles outbreak response vaccination campaign in 58 outbreaks affected woredas.

Rehabilitating and restocking health facilities destroyed by conflict and disasters is also needed. Communicable disease outbreaks, poor and congested living conditions, poor water, sanitation and hygiene facilities and practices, and low vaccination coverage remain public health concerns.

The Center for Disaster Philanthropy has a Global Recovery Fund that provides donors an efficient, flexible solution to support recovery efforts for people affected by sudden and slow-onset disasters or protracted humanitarian emergencies worldwide.

Support recovery now

Contact CDP

Philanthropic contributions

If you have questions about donating to the CDP Global Recovery Fund, need help with your disaster-giving strategy or want to share how you’re responding to this disaster, please contact development.

(Photo: WFP food distribution in Tigray region. Credit: WFP)

Recovery updates

If you are a responding NGO, please send updates on how you are working on recovery from this disaster to Tanya Gulliver-Garcia.

We welcome the republication of our content. Please credit the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.

Philanthropic and government support

Through its various funds, including the COVID-19 Response Fund, Global Recovery Fund and Global Hunger Crisis Fund, CDP has supported recovery efforts that aim to strengthen resilience in Ethiopia.

  • In 2023, CDP awarded $250,000 to Citizen to Citizen (C2C) Development Organization to scale up the implementation of providing microgrants to community-identified project ideas in IPC Phase 4 food insecure areas in Ethiopia’s south that were on the brink of famine. C2C is a leading advocate for localization and its staff are trained in the survivor and community-led response (SCLR)
  • In 2022, CDP awarded $500,000 to International Rescue Committee to build community and local institutions’ resilience against recurring disasters and food insecurity in Ethiopia’s SNNP region by improving the capacities of drought and conflict-affected smallholder farmer households (especially women and youth), communities and their institutions to respond to and proactively mitigate disaster risks and adapt to long-term trends of food insecurity.

Grants from the philanthropic community vary in size, focus and sector. The following are examples of the diversity of philanthropy’s response:

Funders can share grants data with Candid quickly and easily.

The 2024 Ethiopia HRP seeks $3.23 billion from donors to reach over 15 million people. In comparison, the 2023 HRP requested $3.99 billion to reach 20.1 million people. By the end of December, donors had funded 33.5% of the 2023 HRP.

On March 5, 2024, the U.S. Agency for International Development announced the launch of two multi-year agriculture projects in Ethiopia valued at $86.5 million. The projects aim to increase incomes and reduce the rate of malnutrition.

The pledging conference in May 2023 sought full funding for the $7 billion appeal for the Horn of Africa, but pledges of only $2.4 billion were received. The U.S. made the highest pledge – an additional $524 million, taking its total for fiscal 2023 to around $1.4 billion.

In April 2023, EU foreign ministers adopted formal conclusions that laid out their future engagement with Ethiopia. Human Rights Watch acknowledged the inclusion of the importance of accountability and transitional justice for sustainable peace and reconciliation, yet said the EU’s bar for re-engagement with Ethiopia was set too low.

Additional funding is required to meet urgent lifesaving needs. In their Dec. 1, 2023, Ethiopia Situation Report, UNOCHA said, “Continued donors’ support is critical to enable humanitarian partners to maintain and strengthen the delivery of assistance to vulnerable people in conflict and natural disaster-affected areas across the country.”

More ways to help

As with most disasters and emergencies, cash donations are recommended by disaster experts as they allow for on-the-ground agencies to direct funds to the most significant area of need, support local economic recovery and ensure material donations do not detract from disaster recovery needs.

Donors can help in the following ways:

  • Provide unrestricted core funding for vetted humanitarian NGO partners that support the HRP. This is an efficient way to ensure the best use of resources in a coordinated manner. Funding the NGOs that have contributed to the HRP ensures that resources are directed to support the plan and use humanitarian partners’ best knowledge.
  • Support early action to avert catastrophic outcomes, including famine. The current period of failed rains has hit a region that had barely begun to recover from the 2016-2017 drought. The threat of large-scale loss of life rises each day, and more funding is immediately needed. Early investment can help reduce the risk of larger catastrophic consequences that destroy lives and cost more to respond to.
  • Prioritize investments in local organizations: Local humanitarian leaders and organizations play a vital role in providing immediate relief and setting the course for long-term equitable recovery in communities after a disaster or crisis. However, these leaders and organizations are mostly under-resourced and underfunded. Grant to locally-led entities as much as possible. When granting to trusted international partners with deep roots in targeted countries, more consideration should be given to those that empower local and national stakeholders.
  • Understand that recovery is possible in protracted and complex crisis settings. Even while focusing on immediate needs, remember that there are early and long-term recovery needs, too. We know that people who have been affected by shocks in complex humanitarian contexts can recover, improve their situation and build their resilience to withstand future shocks without waiting until the crisis is over, which may take years. Recovery is possible, and funding will be needed for recovery and resilience efforts alongside humanitarian funding. Recovery will take a long time, and funding will be needed throughout.
  • Recognize there are places and ways that private philanthropy can help that other donors may not. Private funders can support nimble and innovative solutions that leverage or augment the larger humanitarian system response, either filling gaps or modeling change that, once tested and proven, can be taken to scale within the broader humanitarian response structure. Philanthropy can also provide sustainable funding to national and local organizations that support operational costs.


See them all

Complex Humanitarian Emergencies

Complex Humanitarian Emergencies

CHEs involve an acute emergency layered over ongoing instability. Multiple scenarios can cause CHEs, like the civil wars in Syria and Yemen, the man-made political crisis in Venezuela, or the public health crisis in Congo.



According to the United Nations’ definition, a “famine” has taken hold when: at least 20 percent of households in an area face extreme food shortages; more than two people in 10,000 are dying each day (from both lack of food and reduced immunity to disease); and more than 30 percent of the population is experiencing acute malnutrition. 



Drought is often defined as an unusual period of drier than normal weather that leads to a water shortage. Drought causes more deaths and displaces more people than any other disaster.