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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.

In their Oct. 31, 2023 Ethiopia Situation Report, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said, “The humanitarian needs in Ethiopia remain high and continue to be triggered by the combined effects of climate events, conflicts and intercommunal violence, and disease outbreaks.”

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)

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. 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
Conflict and violence

In addition to climate-driven emergencies, conflict continues to be the 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.

According to ACLED’s situation report covering the period Sept. 9-15, 2023, “Violence continued in Amhara region last week, with armed clashes recorded between the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) and Fano militias. In Oromia region, fighting resumed between federal forces and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF)-Shane following a relative lull in the fighting.”

In a new report released in October 2023, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission said dozens of civilians had been killed during that month by drone strikes and house-to-house searches in Ethiopia’s Amhara region.

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, 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 have been 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.

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.”

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. 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.

The truce has not ended sexual violence in Tigray, which is being used “as a tactic to harm populations, to terrorize populations,” said Dr. Ranit Mishori, Senior Medical Advisor with Physicians for Human Rights, one of the groups that co-authored a report released in August 2023. The report found that “All parties to the conflict failed to prevent and halt conflict-related sexual violence and to ensure that survivors are able to report and seek care for the devastating injuries caused by these acts.”

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 in March 2023 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.

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. 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.

The primary shocks that have led to protracted displacement in Ethiopia are related to ethnic and/or territorial conflict and drought. According to Ethiopia’s 2023 HRP, there were an estimated 4.6 million IDPs in the country. Through March 2023, the International Organization for Migration said there were 2.73 million IDPs in Ethiopia, including 516,300 displaced by drought.

In their Oct. 31, 2023, Ethiopia Situation Report, UNOCHA said about 1.9 million people need livelihood support and “most IDP returnees had not received any significant support to take advantage of the current main rainy season.”

Some displaced Tigrayans were hesitant to return to Tigray in early 2023 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.

Fighting in other parts of the country has also led to displacement.  The Gambela Region has, since May 2023, faced insecurity due to ethnic based violence. At least 11,700 people have been displaced as of July 31, 2023.

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 Sudan on April 15, 2023, more than 90,000 people have fled Sudan into Ethiopia as of Nov. 7, 2023..

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.


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.

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. The drought has had severe consequences for women and children. As of February 2023, an estimated 106,000 students are affected by lack of water in schools in Shebelle Zone in Somali due to drought. 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

WFP estimates that 20.1 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.

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.

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network said in September 2023, “Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes persist in most northern, southern, and southeastern areas. While food and income are expected to increase from October to January, there is a credible risk of more extreme levels of acute food insecurity in the pastoral south/southeast and Tigray if this does not materialize to the extent currently anticipated.”

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

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.

UNOCHA said in their Sept. 7 situation report: “The food aid pause continues to hold in Ethiopia since June 2023 and initially since April in Tigray, until measures that can ensure effective distribution are put in place. Needs around food assistance remain primary in most humanitarian situations including among internally displaced persons (IDPs), returning IDPs, and refugees.”

In October 2023, WFP announced it had resumed distribution of food to roughly 900,000 refugees across Ethiopia after revamping safeguards and controls. The Ethiopian Government is also responding to food shortage gaps where possible.

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.


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.

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.

In October 2023, UNOCHA said more than 10% of Ethiopia’s total population continues to be targeted for food assistance until the end of the year.

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.”


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

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 May 11, 2023, Ethiopia Cholera Outbreak Flash Update, UNOCHA reported that the cholera outbreak had spread to SNNP and Sidama Regions.

In their Oct. 31, 2023, Ethiopia Situation Report, UNOCHA said, “The cholera outbreak at more than 24,700 cases as of 23 October, continues to affect 85 woredas across the regions of Afar, Amhara, Benishangul Gumz, Central Ethiopia (CER), Harari, Sidama, Somali, South Ethiopia (SER), as well as Dire Dawa administrative city.” An estimated 6.1 million people have been vaccinated in four rounds of oral cholera vaccination campaigns in CER, Oromia, SER, Sidama, Somali, and Amhara regions but continued support is needed.

The current outbreak is among the longest outbreaks ever recorded in Ethiopia, with the first case recorded in August 2022.

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.

According to UNOCHA in their Sept. 7, 2023, situation report, “acute malnutrition is a public health concern impacted by food insecurity, poor WASH services and disease outbreaks such as cholera, malaria, and measles, and hostilities in the region.”

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 overstretched before the crisis. On Dec. 30, 2022, 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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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 Nov. 7, 2023, donors had funded only 30.4% of the 2023 HRP.

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.

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield announced on May 24, 2023, the U.S. was providing nearly $524 million in critical humanitarian assistance for the Horn of Africa crisis, including support for 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 Sept. 7, 2023, 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.


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.

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