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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, need humanitarian assistance. Nearly all of the country’s regions are experiencing conflict, which will have significant repercussions, with displacement and needs expected to rise unless the government and the Tigray People’s Liberation front (TPLF) negotiate a settlement.

(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 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.”

At least 9.4 million people across northern Ethiopia need urgent humanitarian assistance.

The humanitarian crisis extends beyond the northern regions. According to ACAPS’ March 2022 Global Risk Analysis, resource-based clashes because of continuing drought will likely increase insecurity and conflict displacement in the southern Oromia and Somali regions.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has called for immediate and scaled-up assistance to avoid a major humanitarian crisis in the drought-affected areas of Ethiopia.

Key facts
  • 7.2 million drought-affected people need food assistance across the country.
  • At the end of 2021, there were 4.2 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Ethiopia.
  • The WFP estimates 20.4 million people currently need food support.
  • As of April 19, Ethiopia has 470,288 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 7,509 deaths.
Conflict and violence

Conflict remains one of the main drivers of humanitarian needs in Ethiopia, with hotspots in Benishangul Gumuz, northern Ethiopia and Oromia. This is due to competing claims over resources, land rights, administrative boundaries and political and ethnic claims.

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.

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.”

A government-imposed blockade of Tigray significantly hindered humanitarian access through the first three months of 2022. On March 24, the government declared an “indefinite” humanitarian truce, which allowed aid convoys to reach Tigray by land for the first time since December 2021. Despite some improvements in delivering aid, humanitarian access in northern Ethiopia remains challenging.


A key impact of conflict on the population is displacement. At the end of 2021, there were 4.2 million IDPs in Ethiopia, including 1.2 million displaced children. The displacement trend has increased over the last three years. Many IDPs have sought shelter in urban areas, which places additional pressure on vulnerable families within host communities.

Ethiopia is also the third-largest refugee-hosting country in Africa, with 844,589 registered refugees and asylum-seekers.

Intercommunal violence that erupted in Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples (SNNP) region in southern Ethiopia led to a new wave of displacement in April 2022. Around 37,000 people were displaced, including about 19,000 women and girls. Displaced people in Benishangul Gumuz region  set up a social support system consisting of committees to address negative coping strategies.


Ethiopia is grappling with its worst drought since 1981. If rains do not materialize in the March to May rainy season or are below average as expected, this will be the fourth consecutive failed season. At least 81 million people in Oromia, Somali, SNNP and Southwest regions are affected.

Source: ACAPS

The drought is compromising already fragile livelihoods reliant on livestock while also deepening food insecurity and malnutrition. Water is at critical levels, leading to increased risks of water-borne diseases. More than one million livestock deaths have already been reported in the Somali region alone due to lack of animal feed and water.

Food insecurity

The WFP estimates 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.

The war in Ukraine has implications on food security in Ethiopia, which relies on imports to meet approximately 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.

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.

We asked Chris Skopec of Project Hope, a CDP grantee partner, to share the conditions and critical needs he witnessed during his trip to Tigray in early 2021.


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.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ (UNOCHA) response priorities for 2022 include multisectoral life-saving and life-sustaining assistance, protection services and resilience-building. 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.

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 warns that a lack of sufficient resources to meet humanitarian needs in Ethiopia threatens food security.

Ethiopia remains one of the countries of highest concern for the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), which expects much of the country to experience Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes in 2022. 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.

In northern Ethiopia, food and nutrition supplies are urgently needed. However, humanitarian organizations in Tigray face numerous challenges, including shortage of supplies and suspension of essential services. Access to the region remains limited and humanitarian partners are relying on airlifts.


In the coming months, the Ethiopia Health Cluster prioritized coordinating a health response to address the needs of drought-affected communities. Readiness and response to COVID-19 also continue to be a priority.

In Tigray, 3.9 million people need health services and interventions, and this number rises to more than 10 million people in Amhara. The pervasiveness of scabies continues to be a major concern in Tigray, with cases increasing eight-fold since the start of the year.

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. In the SNNP region alone, nearly 17,000 pregnant women experience obstetric complications with potentially deadly consequences, and more than 55,000 women and girls are expected to seek care related to sexual violence.

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, are functional. 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

Ethiopia’s Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) requests $2.75 billion to reach 22.3 million people targeted for assistance. The financial requirements in 2022 represent a significant increase from 2021 as does the number of people in need.

Source: Financial Tracking Service via UNOCHA

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. The U.S. has provided more than $995 million in humanitarian assistance to northern Ethiopia since the crisis began. However, additional funding is required to meet urgent lifesaving needs.

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.

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.
  • 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 evolution, independence and other efforts on behalf of affected people.


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.

UN IASC Protection Cluster

UN IASC Protection Cluster

The Protection Cluster is one of 11 function-based clusters of the UN Inter-Agency Standing Committee Cluster System. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees leads the Cluster.

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.