A Crisis of Hunger
Hunger and food insecurity in Ethiopia have reached unprecedented levels due to devastating, overlapping crises. Conflict, climate extremes (including both drought and flooding), desert locusts, the COVID-19 pandemic and socio-economic challenges have led to deteriorating levels of nutrition and food security across the country.
Among the world’s countries suffering from the current global hunger crisis, Ethiopia is ranked by the World Food Programme (WFP) as the third most affected. According to the WFP, 14 to 15 million Ethiopians (13% - 14% of the country population) are experiencing severe food insecurity.1
A person is food insecure when he or she lacks regular access to enough safe and nutritious food to remain healthy and lead an active life.
A Cycle and History of Hunger
The primary driver of the food crisis in Ethiopia are the ongoing areas of conflict, particularly in the north. Starting in the Tigray region in November 2020, the conflict in northern Ethiopia intensified and spread into the neighboring Afar and Amhara regions. In November 2022, a formal peace deal was agreed between the Ethiopian government and Tigrayan authorities, but the impacts of the crisis continue to be felt.
The conflict in the Tigray region alone has resulted in the displacement of more than 2 million Ethiopians and the disruption n of livelihoods and agricultural activities. Another 2.2 million Ethiopians have been displaced by ethnic and political tensions in other regions of the country.2
In addition, Ethiopia is home to more than 800,000 refugees from neighboring countries fleeing civil war and the risk of famine, especially Eritrea, Somalia and South Sudan.3
Ethiopia hosts the second largest population of refugees and asylum seekers in Africa. — World Food Programme, “Global Report on Food Crises - 2022”
Climate Extremes & Environmental Challenges
Hunger and food insecurity have existed in Ethiopia for decades. In recent years, sustained periods of little to no rainfall have led to severe droughts, especially in southern and southeastern Ethiopia, that further contribute to food scarcity, food shortages, food insecurity and widespread child malnutrition in the country.
The WFP reports that as of January 2022, over 260,000 livestock had already died in the worst drought-affected areas.4 At the other extreme, heavy rains triggered flooding in 2021’s rainy season in several zones of Ethiopia’s Somali region, displacing about 56,000 people and resulting in the death of about 7,700 animals.5 Also in 2021, small swarms of desert locusts invaded the northern regions, decimating the agricultural production that families depend on for food.
Economic Shocks, Including COVID-19
Macroeconomic challenges, especially food inflation caused by ongoing conflict and the pandemic, are wreaking havoc on food security in Ethiopia. Food prices, which now double over those of 2021, continue to limit food access for the country’s families most vulnerable to acute malnutrition. Reductions in fuel subsidies are expected to drive food costs higher.
What Is the Effect of Ethiopia’s Hunger Crisis on Children?
Child malnutrition is at critical levels in Ethiopia. When a child’s intake of calories, vitamins and minerals is less than what is needed for healthy early childhood development, stunting or wasting can be the result.
- Stunting is the result of chronic or recurrent undernutrition that results in low height in relation to age.
- Wasting is mostly an acute condition associated with recent and severe weight loss, such as in times of drought or food scarcity. Wasting results in a low weight in relation to height.
- Underweight children may experience stunting and wasting, but they may not. Having low weight-for-age is considered being underweight.