Ethiopia is prone to devastating droughts and severe food shortages.
This country of 83 million people has a huge rural population dependent on subsistence farming.
It has suffered repeated famines. Over the past 50 years, these have often been by aggravated by conflict.
In October 2011, southern and eastern Ethiopia was once more in the grip of a prolonged drought that was also devastating Somalia and northern Kenya.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 4.6 million Ethiopians were in need of humanitarian assistance.
In October 2011, Ethiopia also hosted nearly 300,000 refugees from neighbouring states. Most were Somalis fleeing war, drought and famine in their homeland.
The main concentration of Somali refugees – 133,000 - was at the Dolo Ado complex of refugee camps in the arid Ogaden region, close to the point where the borders of Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya meet.
The other main groups of refugees in Ethiopia were from Sudan and Eritrea.
Ethiopia has enjoyed relative peace and stability since Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and his Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Revolutionary Front (EPRDF) came to power in 1991 at the end of a civil war.
However, there has been conflict with Eritrea, which broke away from Ethiopia to become an independent state in 1993.
There has also been persistent tension and repeated conflict with Somalia.
For several decades, Ethiopia has faced an insurgency in its eastern Ogaden region by ethnic Somali rebels seeking to break away from Ethiopia in order to unite the region with Somalia. The Ogaden has been officially renamed by the current government as the Somali administrative region.
Low-level conflict between the Ethiopian security forces and separatists guerrillas in the Ogaden erupted into a full-scale war between Ethiopia and Somalia from 1977 to 1978. The result was inconclusive. Ethiopia retained nominal control of the region.
In 2006, Ethiopia launched a military intervention in Somalia, which was then