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Woman stands in front of temporary shelter in drought-afflicted region.
Gripped by drought

Ethiopia

The International Rescue Committee provides vital support to Ethiopians and refugees who have been affected by a record-breaking drought, as well as flooding and conflict.

Country facts
  • Total population: 94 million
  • Refugees: Nearly 740,000
  • Rank in Human Development Index: 174 of 188
IRC response
  • Started work in Ethiopia: 2000

Ethiopia crisis briefing

Ethiopia, located in the Horn of Africa, is still coping with the effects of its worst drought in decades. Today some 5.6 million Ethiopians are in need of food and aid as a new drought takes hold of the region. The IRC delivers clean water and sanitation, essential supplies, and other emergency assistance to vulnerable Ethiopians while supporting government-provided health services.

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What caused the crisis in Ethiopia?

Ethiopia has suffered from drought for decades, but 2016 saw the worst in 50 years, affecting more than 10 million people. Many were forced to walk more than 12 hours in a desperate search for water.

Shita Serbela collects water in Ethiopia.
Eleven-year-old Shita Serbela collects water at an IRC-water point in Ethiopia. Photo: Tyler Jump/IRC

Ethiopia has suffered from drought for decades, but 2016 saw the worst in 50 years, affecting more than 10 million people. Many were forced to walk more than 12 hours in a desperate search for water.

What are the main humanitarian challenges in Ethiopia?

While the Ethiopian government is leading the ongoing drought response, more support is needed to reach millions of people in need of food and emergency assistance.

As drought intensifies across East Africa in 2017, below-average rains have left 5.6 million people in Ethiopia in need of food aid while over 9 million lack access to safe drinking water. More than 300,000 children are expected to need treatment for severe acute malnutrition as the crisis continues.

Children often miss school in order to search for water. Women and girls, in particular, are in need of clean and accessible health centers and protection from abuse and exploitation.

How does the IRC help in Ethiopia?

The IRC’s mission is to help people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover and gain control of their future.

A woman stands in an arid, drought-ridden farmland in Ethiopia
A woman stands in an arid, drought-ridden farmland in Ethiopia. Photo: Tyler Jump/IRC

We first began assisting people in Ethiopia in 2000, providing essential aid to over 100,000 refugees from neighboring countries and more than 500,000 Ethiopians affected by previous droughts. Since then, the IRC has expanded to provide a wide range of assistance for refugees living in camps and for vulnerable Ethiopian communities throughout the country. In 2013, the IRC opened the largest water system for any refugee camp in the world.

As Ethiopia hosts approximately 800,000 refugees and asylum seekers, and works to recover from the effects of drought and other economic shocks, the IRC is focusing our efforts in affected communities by:

  • building and maintaining safe water supply systems and sanitation facilities;
  • educating communities on good hygiene practices to prevent the spread of disease;
  • supporting government partners and community workers in primary health care clinics on preventing and treating common childhood illnesses and addressing family planning needs;
  • distributing basic emergency supplies such as household kitchen sets, blankets, and buckets and jerrycans, as well as supplies to meet the specific needs of women and girls;
  • constructing classrooms, training teachers and ensuring access to safe, high-quality, and responsive education services;
  • introducing new livelihoods-related skills and job opportunities to youth and vulnerable households.
     

What still needs to be done?

The IRC will continue to provide a wide range of emergency assistance and long-term support for vulnerable refugee and Ethiopian communities—including at-risk groups such as unaccompanied children and people with disabilities—to help them cope with and recover from crises. This includes building the capacity of local governments and nonprofit organizations as we work with these partners to increase people’s access to quality health care and clean water and sanitation services; educate communities about ways to prevent disease; raise awareness of family planning and reproductive health services; and enhance the literacy, numeracy, social and emotional, and job-related skills of youth.

Download the IRC's Ethiopia strategy action plan to learn more about our program priorities through 2020.

News and features

Press releases

Rescue stories

  • I want to finish my schooling and be educated. I want to be a teacher."
    Abdil used to leave his house at 7am every morning heading not to school, but to travel hours in search of water for his family. After the IRC built a water point closer to his home, 13-year-old Abdil was able to focus his time on studying instead of collecting water.
  • Now, I'm getting water beside my house. I am proud and very happy, I can't express my happiness."
    Due to a drought in her home of Ethiopia, Anab used to walk six hours just to collect water. Now, thanks to an IRC supported water point, she has access to clean water right by her house.
  • Clean water means our life is also clean. Our children are clean. When our children have safe water, they are safe."
    After the IRC rehabilitated a water point near Sheyte's home in Ethiopia, what would have been a 12 hour search for water became a simple 10-minute task.