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Ethiopia Humanitarian Crisis

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

However, the combination of armed conflict, climate shocks, disease outbreaks and the socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19 have led to the deterioration in humanitarian conditions in the country. The 2023 Ethiopia Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) seeks $3.99 billion to target 20.1 million people across the country, including an estimated 4.6 million internally displaced people (IDPs).

Ethiopia is one of the most drought-prone countries in the world, and the severe drought that began in late 2020 has continued into 2023 with the country enduring five failed rainy seasons. The 2023 HRP aims to reach an estimated 13 million people for humanitarian response in drought-affected areas.

According to the 2023 HRP, “The situation is getting more critical with each failed rainy season and has severely impacted pastoralist and agro-pastoralist communities, particularly in the eastern and southern parts of the country, aggravating food insecurity, malnutrition, access to water and a worsening health situation with an increase of disease outbreaks.”

In their April 4, 2023, Ethiopia Drought Snapshot, the UN Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said, “The humanitarian context in drought-affected areas is quickly changing, and the gravity of the situation today has already surpassed the ongoing responses, and the urgency to scale up the response is high.”

Some parts of Ethiopia are affected by both drought and conflict simultaneously, including Oromia and Somali regions. 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.

In contrast to drought, heavy rains and flash floods in 2023 in Oromia, Somali and Afar regions “have negatively affected those communities with the destruction of shelters used by internally displaced persons (IDPs), loss of cattle and a risk in an increase in the already rapidly spreading cholera outbreak.”

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

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

Some displaced people have been hesitant to return to Tigray, and recovery and the resumption of services will take time. While acknowledging the visible progress since the November 2022 peace deal, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, said, “much more needs to be done to support the reconstruction and recovery efforts in the Afar, Amhara and Tigray regions.”

The country’s humanitarian crisis extends beyond Tigray. In parts of the Afar region, malnutrition rates remain critical and more than 152,000 people lack shelter after the compounding effects of conflict, floods and drought. A cholera outbreak is also spreading in Oromia and Somali.

Since November 2020, forces under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali have been fighting to oust 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.”

A lack of trust between the TPLF and the Ethiopian government had prevented peace in the conflict. On Oct. 12, 2022, the U.S. and other nations urged both sides to start African Union-led peace talks and warned of humanitarian risks if the conflict continues.

On Nov. 2, 2022, the Ethiopian government and Tigrayan forces formally signed a truce, raising hopes that two years of war that threatened to tear apart Africa’s second-most-populous country might be coming to an end. Then, 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. In March 2023, the Ethiopian government appointed a senior officialin the TPLH as head of an interim government for Tigray.

A previously agreed five-month truce ended with renewed fighting between the TPLF and the Ethiopian government towards the end of August 2022. The International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia expressed its deep concern at the time about the renewal of hostilities.

With the resumption and escalation of fighting in northern Ethiopia, virtually no humanitarian support was able to reach Tigray, according to the World Food Programme’s (WFP) regional director for eastern Africa. The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Nov. 15 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.

Key facts
Conflict and violence

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

A five-month truce ended with renewed fighting between the TPLF and the Ethiopian government toward the end of August 2022. The fighting was a blow to hopes for peace talks between the two parties. Humanitarian convoys into Tigray had been suspended, as well as UN Humanitarian Air Service flights, affecting the movement of staff and operational cash.

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 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.

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. As humanitarian assistance continues to enter Tigray, more than 5,561 trucks of humanitarian cargo had arrived in the region between mid-November 2022 and March 16, 2023.

Human rights abuses have been documented against all parties to the conflict. 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.

On March 20, 2023, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said after “careful review of the law and the facts”, it was determined that the Ethiopian National Defense Forces, Eritrean Defense Forces, TPLF forces and Amhara forces committed war crimes during the conflict in northern Ethiopia. Ethiopia called the U.S. accusations “inflammatory” and rejected its determination.

Human Rights Watch said the U.S. government’s recognition of the war crimes “should go hand-in-hand with backing for a UN body charged with carrying out an independent investigation.” The New Humanitarian reported that there is skepticism over Ethiopia’s commitment to a transitional justice process, although the government is eager to see direct economic support restored by the U.S. and European Union.

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.

Aid workers are not immune to violence. In June 2021, three Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) staff were killed in Tigray. According to MSF, they did not have credible answers for what happened to their staff, and Paula Gil, the President of MSF Spain, was not granted permission to visit Tigray on a visit to the country in July 2022. 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 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.”

Ethiopia is seeking support for a motion to cut short a UN-mandated inquiry into atrocities in the Tigray war.
Displacement

The primary shocks that have led to protracted displacement in Ethiopia are related to ethnic and/or territorial conflict and drought. There are an estimated 4.6 million IDPs in the country. This figure includes 886,000 IDPs who have been displaced for under one year; one million displaced for 1-4 years; and as many as 745,000 IDPs displaced for over five years as of September 2022.

Some displaced Tigrayans have been hesitant to return to Tigray and recovery and the resumption of services will take time. In Tigray, an IDP Return Plan for 2023, has been agreed upon and a first “assisted return movement” from Mekelle was scheduled for end of March 2023. In Amhara, food distribution to about 1.1 million affected IDPs has faced several operational challenges and significant needs persist.

According to UNOCHA in their April 24, 2023, Ethiopia Situation Report, IDP returns in Tigray, Amhara and Afar continue. Scaling up humanitarian assistance for returnees and newly accessed areas remains a priority.

Ethiopia is also one of the largest refugee-hosting countries in Africa, with more than 890,000 refugees registered in the country, mainly from South Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan. Among the refugee population, 53% are women.

Since the outbreak of fighting in neighboring Sudan on April 15, 2023, the International Organization for Migration said on May 4 that more than 12,000 people had arrived in Metema, the border town between Sudan and Ethiopia. Primary needs for this population include food, drinking water and latrines, emergency shelter, and adequate health and protection services.

In addition to conflict resulting in displacement, drought is also causing people to migrate in search of water, pastures or assistance. Climate-fueled drought and flooding across the country have displaced thousands of people. As of September 2022, drought had driven 516,269 individuals in the Somali, Afar and Oromia regions into displacement. New flood incidents were reported at the end of March 2023 in Loka Abaya Woreda of Sidama Region, where 2,500 people were displaced.

Drought

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. On Feb. 22, 2023, the World Meteorological Organization said below-normal rainfall is expected in most parts of the Horn of Africa over the next three months, which would be an unprecedented sixth poor season for the worst hit countries, including Ethiopia.

Ethiopia’s 2023 HRP says, “Climatic shocks such as drought and floods are recurring events, but the frequency and duration of droughts is increasing; further intensifying the needs of affected people and causing greater devastation to lives and livelihoods.”

According to the 2023 WFP Regional Drought Response Plan for the Horn of Africa, “Drought is predominantly affecting the Somali, Oromia and Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ (SNNP) regions, but the crisis has impacted the lives and livelihoods of people across the country. 11.8 million people are now in need of food assistance in drought-affected areas alone, an increase of 59 per cent compared to early 2022.”

More than 6.8 million livestock have died as a result of the drought since late 2021 with livelihoods severely impacted.An estimated 106,000 students are affected by lack of water in schools in Shebelle Zone in Somali due to drought.

After a fifth failed rainy season, the Somali Region is entering a critical lean season requiring an increase in the humanitarian response. Ninety-one out of 144 targeted kebeles in Dawa Zone need water trucking services, and boreholes and hand-dug wells need rehabilitation. In their April 4, 2023, Ethiopia Drought Snapshot UNOCHA said, “inadequate water trucking and growing pressure on remaining water sources, while health risks related to complications from malnutrition and severe water shortages have multiplied, including a cholera outbreak.”

Source: UNOCHA

In their April 24, 2023, Ethiopia Situation Report, UNOCHA said, “The condition of vulnerable pastoralists and agro-pastoralists in drought-affected Oromia and Somali regions, and parts of Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region (SNNPR), Southwest Ethiopia Peoples’ Region (SWEPR) is still extremely dire, and the urgency to further scale up the humanitarian response is high.”

Food insecurity

WFP estimates that 20.4 million people currently need food support. Growing levels of food insecurity are due to persistent droughts and the desert locust infestation. Food and nutritional insecurity have soared further because of large numbers of livestock deaths, which remain the main source of nutrition and income for affected communities.

According to UNOCHA in their April 24, 2023, Ethiopia Situation Report: “The dramatic increases in food insecurity, malnutrition, displacements, as well as deteriorating health and protection indices and lack of access to clean water are some of the indicators of the concerning humanitarian situation. While recent spring rains- Belg/Ganna/Gu (March-May) have only provided temporary solace through replenished surface water sources and rejuvenated pasture it does not have long term impact on the restoration of livelihoods.”

Source: ACAPS

The war in Ukraine has implications on food security in Ethiopia, which relies on imports to meet nearly 25% of the country’s domestic demand for wheat. Prices of fuel, food, fertilizers, steel and iron have increased in international markets since the war began. These price increases may have negative repercussions on production and food prices.

Source: Action Against Hunger

According to the Ethiopia Joint Market Monitoring Initiative (JMMI), prices for some critical food items continue to increase. In JMMI’s April 2023 report, 55% of vendors reported increased prices for food items in the 30 days after data collection. Customer groups that were reported to have faced difficulties visiting marketplaces included people with disabilities (30%), chronically ill (29%) and older persons (27%).

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.

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

Protection

Displacement contributes to and exacerbates protection risks. Protection concerns are growing, particularly for at-risk groups, including children, women, elderly persons and persons with disabilities, as families lose their socioeconomic and community-support structures.

Ethiopia’s 2023 HRP targets 4.9 million people for protection assistance.

A key component of the 2023 HRP “also involves ensuring that gender, protection, accountability to affected people (AAP), and prevention from sexual exploitation and abuse (PSEA) are well integrated across the different segments of the response plan. The 2023 HRP targets the most vulnerable people across the country, both displaced and non-displaced, including those who face serious protection concerns due to conflict and violence, and those who have critical needs caused by the extreme drought, which is affecting the lives of millions of Ethiopians.” The number of people needing GBV response increased to 5.8 million in 2022 compared to 3.5 million in 2021.

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. The WFP warned in April 2022 that a lack of sufficient resources to meet humanitarian needs in Ethiopia threatens food security.

In their June 2022 Ethiopia Drought Response Situation Report, WFP said it had been forced “to cut food rations to 2.4 million people and only treat 17% of the malnourished children and mothers across southern and south-eastern Ethiopia due to severe funding shortages.”

In January 2023 alone, more than 8,300 children in Ethiopia were diagnosed with malnutrition, including more than 800 admitted into various stabilization centers for treatment with medical complications.

Ethiopia remains one of the countries of highest concern for FEWS NET, with widespread and severe levels of acute food security expected across much of Ethiopia through at least mid-2023.

According to the 2023 WFP Regional Drought Response Plan for the Horn of Africa, “To address the significant humanitarian needs driven by the ongoing drought, WFP is providing a combination of interventions to save lives in the immediate-term and build climate resilient livelihoods and food systems in the longer-term.”

Health

The Ethiopia 2023 HRP targets 9.8 million people for emergency health assistance.

In their Feb. 2, 2023, Ethiopia Situation Report, UNOCHA said, “The health sector remains under-resourced and underfunded amidst an increasing number of IDPs and returnees requiring essential health services, while over-reliance on Mobile Health and Nutrition Teams is costly. Shortage of ambulances to transport expecting mothers to health facilities, Lack of water quality monitoring supplies and kits in Cholera high-risk areas, coupled with low capacity to conduct such tests. Lack of food assistance for health workers and caregivers in stabilization centres.”

Readiness and response to COVID-19 also continue to be a priority. On July 10, 2022, a COVID-19 vaccination campaign was launched at Mekelle hospital in Tigray, the first such campaign in Tigray.

In Oromia, a cholera outbreak in Bale Zone since late September 2022 was alarming. Rainfall in some drought affected areas of Oromia and Somali, had contributed to the rapid spread of the cholera outbreak in sites with basic or no WASH or health services.

In their April 24, 2023, Ethiopia Situation Report, UNOCHA said: “At present, the cholera outbreak, which began in August 2022, has spread at an alarming rate across 25 neighbouring woredas of Oromia, Somali and most recently SNNP regions, the caseload having exceeded 4,194 including 71 deaths as of 18 April, according to the Ethiopian Public Health Institute (EPHI). The caseload has doubled since January 2023, 50 per cent of whom are women, while close to 3.3 million people (including IDPs) are at high-risk amidst low water supply coverage (Oromia and Somali) and limited vaccines as of March.”

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.

There remains a shortage of qualified health staff and the shortage is particularly observed for mental health and psychosocial support services. In many regions, reproductive health services were already over stretched before the crisis. On Dec. 30, Ethiopia’s Ministry of Health officially launched a nationwide measles vaccination campaign targeting more than 15.5 million children.

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 (CDP) has a Global Recovery Fund that provides an opportunity for donors to meet the ongoing and ever-expanding challenges presented by global crises.

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Contact CDP

Philanthropic contributions

If you would like to make a donation to the CDP Global Recovery Fund, please contact development.

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

Recovery updates

If you are a responding NGO or a donor, 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.

Donor recommendations

If you are a donor looking for recommendations on how to help with disaster recovery, please email Regine A. Webster.

Philanthropic and government support

CDP, through its COVID-19 Response Fund and Global Recovery Fund, awarded $500,000 to International Rescue Committee in 2022 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.

Ethiopia’s 2023 HRP seeks $3.99 billion to reach 20.1 million people. In comparison, the 2022 HRP requested $3.09 billion to reach more than 20 million people. As of April 3, 2023, donors had funded only 18% of the 2023 HRP.

On April 21, 2022, USAID said it would provide nearly $313 million in additional humanitarian assistance to help people affected by the ongoing conflict in northern Ethiopia.

On July 27, 2022, USAID announced it would provide an additional $448 million in humanitarian assistance to Ethiopia. That announcement brings USAID’s funding to more than $668 million for the Ethiopia emergency drought response in FY 2022. On Nov. 10, 2022, the European Union (EU), through its partnership with the UN Children’s Fund, provided more than $32 million (€31.5 million) “to restore and strengthen health services and systems to improve the lives of women and children living in conflict-impacted regions in Ethiopia.” The EU announced more than $24 million (€22 million) in humanitarian aid on May 2, 2023.

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 April 3, 2023, Ethiopia Situation Report, UNOCHA said, “Continued donors’ support is urgent and 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.

Resources

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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.

Famine

Famine

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

Drought

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.