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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. In 2022, 25.9 million people, more than one-fifth of Ethiopia’s population, needed humanitarian assistance.

Ethiopia is one of six countries identified by United Nations (UN) agencies as requiring humanitarian action to prevent starvation and death. Four consecutive failed rainy seasons have resulted in an unprecedented drought that contributes to increased displacement and hunger. Immediate action is necessary to scale up and sustain humanitarian assistance through at least mid-2023 to avert the risk of famine.

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. As of early January 2023, humanitarian access to Tigray continued to improve since the peace agreement following months of virtually no humanitarian aid being allowed to enter the region. However, some displaced people have been hesitant to return to Tigray, and recovery and the resumption of services will take time.

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 spreading in Oromia and Somali, and drought continues to affect large portions of the country.

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

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, 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, military leaders from the warring sides signed an accord in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, to implement the truce signed earlier in the month. The cease-fire agreement has been seen as an opportunity to end the Tigray war.

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, 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. In January 2023, humanitarian access to Tigray continued to improve since the peace agreement following months of virtually no humanitarian aid being allowed to enter the region.

Air strikes against Mekelle, the capital of Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, killed 10 people on Sept. 13. A kindergarten was among the locations attacked in the air strikes, with the Ethiopian government and the TPLF blaming the other. Even before the air strikes, the hospital in Mekelle was struggling due to electricity outages and limited medical and fuel supplies.

Human Rights Watch said that an armed group killed several hundred Amhara civilians in western Oromia in June 2022 while Ethiopian security forces did little to protect them.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in their Jan. 5 Situation Report: “In Oromia Region, despite an increased humanitarian need, the humanitarian access situation remains very challenging and impacting humanitarian operations in Guji and West Guji zones, with ongoing conflict induced displacement in the region. As of 30 December, an estimated more than 14,000 new IDPs from Oromia arrived in Amhara Region.”

Human rights abuses have been documented and continue. 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.

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.

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.”

Displacement

A key impact of conflict on the population is displacement. At the end of November 2022, there were 2.71 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Ethiopia. The displacement trend has increased over the last three years but began to decrease during the summer of 2022. However, due to operational constraints IDP data for the Tigray region is unknown, meaning the country’s total figure is likely higher. More than 2.21 million IDPs are in the Amhara region. Many IDPs have sought shelter in urban areas, which places additional pressure on vulnerable families within host communities.

Ethiopia is also one of the largest refugee-hosting countries in Africa, with 880,021 registered refugees and asylum seekers through November 2022. Most originate from South Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea.

In 2022, newly displaced persons were seeking refuge in overcrowded and sub-standard sites, often amongst the host community who also face challenges and are at-risk. In some parts of the country, IDPs return to their origin. However, these returns occur in a context where essential services are not restored, and resources for livelihood recovery are limited. Economic reasons are the primary type of outgoing migration flow among Ethiopians leaving the country. Some displaced Tigrayans have been hesitant to return to Tigray and recovery and the resumption of services will take time.

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 country have displaced thousands of people. From October 2021 to June 2022, more than 345,000 people have been newly displaced by the drought, especially in Somali Region (175,000) and Southern Oromia (163,000).

Drought

Ethiopia is grappling with its worst drought since 1981. The March to May 2022 rainy season in the Horn of Africa is likely the driest on record. Nearly 17 million people are now targeted for assistance in drought-affected areas, a significant increase from 8.1 million people in the first half of 2022.

According to UNOCHA in the revised 2022 Ethiopia Drought Response Plan, “The impact of the drought on the livelihoods of affected communities is already devastating and is expected to further worsen in the second half of 2022 increasing the severity of needs. Recent weather forecasts point towards a higher likelihood that the upcoming deyr/hageya rainy season (October – December 2022) will also be below-average, making it an unprecedented fifth consecutive failed rainy season.”

Through October 2022, more than 4 million livestock had reportedly died since late 2021, and more than 30 million livestock are emaciated, weakened and at risk of death across the drought-impacted areas. Humanitarian partner’s priority areas for reaching drought affected people as of Nov. 30, 2022, include woredas in southern Ethiopia.

Source: UNOCHA
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, “There are concerns of further worsening of food insecurity in zones where the Belg season harvest is below normal, and in areas where the drought impact is expected to extend to yet another season with a projected fifth consecutive failed rainy season during October-December 2022.”

According to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), “High levels of hunger and acute malnutrition already exist, and a forecast for a fifth poor season in late 2022 signals the impacts of drought will likely persist through at least mid-2023.”

Source: FEWS NET

In eastern and southern Ethiopia alone, nearly 12 million people are estimated to be food insecure, and 8.6 million people are being targeted for water, sanitation and hygiene assistance across the drought-affected areas.

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.

An UN-chartered ship loaded with 23,000 metric tons of Ukrainian grain destined for Ethiopia was preparing to set sail from a Black Sea port on Aug. 14, the first shipment of its kind in a program to assist countries facing famine. The food aid arrived in the WFP’s Ethiopia warehouse in early September. In addition to being deployed in Ethiopia, some of the food will be sent to Somalia.

Source: Action Against Hunger

According to the Ethiopia Joint Market Monitoring Initiative (JMMI), prices for critical food items continue to increase. Goat meat saw a 25% increase nationwide from June to September 2022. The JMMI September report found that 16% of older persons found it difficult to visit marketplaces due to movement restrictions.

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. As of June 2022, at least 7.9 million people were in need of protection services.

UNOCHA’s response priorities for 2022 include multisectoral lifesaving and life-sustaining assistance, protection services and resilience-building. Gender-Based Violence (GBV), and Conflict-Related Sexual Violence remain key concerns in communities affected by conflicts, drought and floods in Ethiopia. The number of people needing GBV response increased to 5.8 million in 2022 compared to 3.5 million in 2021.

Protection needs are high across Oromia because the scale of violence and needs of refugees in Tigray have increased following attacks targeting Eritrean refugees in the region. Reports of widespread conflict-related sexual violence in the Tigray region demonstrate the need for sufficient response.

According to UNOCHA in their Jan. 5 Situation Report, “Limited access to several areas across the country due to insecurity compounded by the limited presence of protection actors.”
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.”

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. FEWS NET  says, “Emergency (IPC Phase 4) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are likely in northern, central, southern, and southeastern Ethiopia through at least May 2023, even with ongoing assistance. High levels of acute malnutrition and hunger-related mortality are expected. A significant scale-up and sustained multisectoral assistance (food, nutrition, WASH) is urgently needed to save lives.” According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), Phase 5 is famine.

Food assistance is needed in drought-affected regions, including specialized nutritious foods for malnourished children and mothers. Key forms of support for agro-pastoralists include seeds and fertilizers, and trainings on small-scale, drought-resistant agricultural techniques.

From July to December 2022, the revised Ethiopia Drought Response Plan said humanitarian partners would target “the vulnerable households from pastoralist and agro-pastoralists communities; internally displaced people (IDPs); and households with no or limited sources of incomes and food.”

Health

As of mid-2022, an estimated 13 million people were in need of emergency health assistance in Ethiopia due to conflict, drought and floods, including about three million displaced people.

Readiness and response to COVID-19 also continue to be a priority. On July 10, a COVID-19 vaccination campaign was launched at Mekelle hospital in Tigray, the first such campaign in Tigray. Heavy rains pose a high risk of malaria and other water-borne diseases.

In Oromia, a cholera outbreak in Bale Zone since late September 2022 is alarming. As of Dec. 14, 699 cholera cases had been reported including 24 deaths. An estimated 743,000 people are at high risk in the affected woredas. 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.

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. For example, only 94 health facilities in Afar, or 22% of the 414 facilities, were functional as of April 2022Communicable 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

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 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) requests $3.09 billion to reach more than 20 million people targeted for assistance. The financial requirements in 2022 represent a significant increase from 2021 as does the number of people in need. As of Dec. 14, donors had funded only 47.1% of the HRP.

On April 21, 2022, the U.S. Agency for International Development (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, 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.”

However, additional funding is required to meet urgent lifesaving needs. In their Jan. 5 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. 

Internally Displaced People

Internally Displaced People

Internally displaced persons are those who have been forced to flee their homes, in particular as a result of armed conflict, generalized violence, violations of human rights or disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized border.