Famine in Ethiopia

Authors: Sereena Singh and Shuhan Hu
World Information Transfer UN Interns, fall 2011


  • Ethiopia has been structurally food deficient since at least 1980. The food gap rose from 0.75 million tons in 1979/80 to 5 million tons in 1993/94, falling to 2.6 million tons in 1995/96 despite a record harvest (Befekadu and Berhanu 2000:176). Even in that year, 240,000 tons of food aid was delivered, suggesting that chronic food insecurity afflicts millions of Ethiopians in the absence of transitory production shocks. (Devereux)
  • Structural adjustment programs implemented by the World Bank in the early 1990’s created the cornerstones for Ethiopia’s food insecurity. Debt relief program led to a decrease in food prices, which led to a shortage in food. The cycle of debt continued, as farmers could not pay back the subsidized loans for fertilizer and seeds. (Dejen)
  • According to the government, 4.5 million people are in need of emergency food assistance. WFP is currently reaching 3.7 million people in Ethiopia with emergency food assistance, including 240,000 refugees. A further 3.4 million people are receiving assistance through non-emergency programmes. (WFP)
  • Ethiopia remains one of the world’s least developed countries, ranked 157 out of 169 in the 2010 UNDP Human Development Index with agriculture as the foundation of the economy, employing 80 per cent of the country’s 82 million people.  Some 84 per cent of the population lives in rural areas and is mainly engaged in rain-fed subsistence agriculture. (WFP)
  • The famine of 2003 in Ethiopia was the worst famine since the mid-1980s. About one fifth of the population was left without food and tens of thousands of people died as a result of starvation and malnutrition.
  • A possible repeat of the world-infamous Ethiopian famine of 1985, in which 1,000,000 people died from starvation caused panic and probed many organizations to immediately provide aid to Ethiopia. The prime minister of Ethiopia at the time, Meles Zenawi, admitted that the government was unable to provide relief for its people and that the economy was stagnating due to the failure of the harvest (due to the drought). He called for aid in order to prevent mass starvation. Many organizations provided relief, and the magnitude of the crisis was lessened to some extent. (Starvation in Ethiopia)


  • With an emphasis on food aid distribution, WFP clearly plays a major role in food security, handling 30–40% of national food distributions. The government and national and international NGOs handle the remainder. Within the Early Warning Working Group (EWWG) and the ENA process, WFP is the largest contributor in terms of logistics support, and contributes significantly in terms of human resources. WFP has also played an important and positive role in the safety nets programme, based on its general and development programme experience. (Haan, Majid, Darcy)
  • The government continues to address food insecurity through its long-term strategy of Agricultural Development-led Industrialization.  This is complemented by Ethiopia’s Food Security Programme which includes the Productive Safety Net Programme, the Household Asset Building Programme, and others designed to ease households out of food insecurity. (WFP)
  • WFP covers the needs of 3.5 million through its Relief programme and another million people in need receives food assistance from the NGO consortium, the Joint Emergency Operation Programme (JEOP). (WFP)
  • During the life of the project Pact worked with 85 local NGO partners, focusing on five sectors: health; disadvantaged youth; rural development and food security; education; and democratic practices. (PACT)
  • Ethiopian Red Cross Society (ERCS), has also been providing assistance in Fedis district in East Hararghe. ERCS has provided relief food assistance to the population in selected villages of this district. This area has also experienced successive lack of seasonal rains from February to May and June to September seasons. Often, crops fail due to insufficient rainfall. Since 2010, the Red Cross has distributed seeds, farm tools and fertilizers that are essential inputs to sustain the livelihoods of the vulnerable people. (Senay)
  • A switch from annual ‘emergency’ response to multi-year planning and programming by donors is strongly recommended, together with enhanced coordination of government, donor and NGO activities and strategies around the priority objective of achieving sustainable food security for all Ethiopians. (Devereux)
  • One programme, the Joint Emergency Operation Plan (JEOP) – a consortium food relief programme is implemented by seven NGO partners. Implementation by NGOs of this type of programme is rare, as large scale emergency food aid programmes are usually implemented through WFP channels in other countries. However, through collaborative partnership and continued funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Food for Peace Programme (FFP), NGO partners Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Save the Children (SC) US and UK, CARE Ethiopia, World Vision, Food for the Hungry Ethiopia (FHE), and Relief Society of Tigray (REST) are playing an active role in addressing emergency food needs across Ethiopia for almost two million people per distribution (round). (Carter)
  • Sources:

    Carter, Alix. “Joint Emergency Operation Plan NGO response to emergency food needs in Ethiopia.” Field Exchange. Feb. 2011. 13 Nov. 2011.

    Dejen, Tasew. “Food Insecurity in Ethiopia.” German Ethiopian Assosiation. 24 Mar. 2004. Web. 9 Nov. 2011..

    Devereux, Stephen. “Food Insecurity in Ethiopia.” Addis Voice. Oct. 2000..

    “Ethiopian NGO Sector.” Pact – Building Capacity Worldwide. Aug. 1995. PACT. 13 Nov. 2011.

    Haan, Nicholas, Nisar Majid, and James Darcy. “A Review of Emergency Food Security Assessment Practice in Ethiopia.” Open Distance Learning. Mar. 2006. Humanitarian Policy Group. 13 Nov. 2011.

    “History of Ethiopia.” Starvation in Ethiopia. 2005. 14 Nov. 2011.WFP. World Food Programme.

    Publication. 2010. 13 Nov. 2011.

    Senay, Nahu. “Improving Food Security in Drought Affected Areas of Ethiopia.” IFRC. 22 June 2011. International Federation of RedCross and Red Crescent Societies. 13 Nov. 2011.