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

Ethiopia Crisis Watch

The International Rescue Committee provides vital support to Ethiopians and refugees who have been affected by a record-breaking drought, as well as flooding, conflict and COVID-19.

What's happening

  • Escalating violence in the Tigray region of Ethiopia could have a devastating humanitarian impact.

  • Over 2 million people in Tigray are already in need of aid, including 96,000 refugees and 100,000 internally displaced people.

  • The IRC is calling for immediate de-escalation by all parties involved in the conflict to ensure humanitarian services can continue.

Learn more
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 experiencing its worst drought in decades, leaving more than 10 million people in need of food and aid. 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 have been 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

With 80% of the population working in agriculture, this drought has been devastating for the economy, crops and food production. The situation is made worse by weather events like El Nino, which increase the number of areas affected by drought and flooding throughout the country.

At the same time, Ethiopia is working to support a large population of refugees from Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and Eritrea.

What are the main humanitarian challenges in Ethiopia?

While the Ethiopian government is leading the response to the drought, 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 centres 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 neighbouring 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 a devastating 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 that 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 vocational 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 organisations 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 programme priorities until 2020.

Our impact

In 2015, the IRC and our partner organisations in Ethiopia provided:

1.5 Million

people with access to primary and reproductive health care.

Each year, millions of people -- particularly women and children -- die from preventable causes in countries affected by violent conflict and natural disasters.

Learn more about our health work.
1 Million

people with access to clean water and sanitation.

Before the IRC built a water point near his house, 13-year old Abdi was forced to forgo school in order to travel for hours just to find water for his family.

Learn how your life can change without water.

children and youth with access to school and other educational opportunities.

Education is the ultimate empowerment tool: it is what enables people to drive their own health, safety and prosperity.

Learn about our education work.

News and features

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.