USAID/OFDA Fact Sheet No.17: Ethiopia drought

News and Press Release
Originally published


Note: This Fact Sheet updates USAID/OFDA Ethiopia Fact Sheet #15, dated September 27, 2003.


According to USAID's Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET), a trend of insufficient rainfall during the past 17 years in Ethiopia has adversely affected crop production. Many local households are able to cope with the effects of a single poor rainy season. However, the cumulative effects of consecutive poor rainy seasons have resulted in some households experiencing chronic food insecurity while exhausting traditional coping mechanisms. The humanitarian situation for affected Ethiopians is exacerbated by a livelihoods crisis resulting from a decline in world coffee prices, decreasing labor wages, insufficient livestock production, environmental degradation, and market instability.

In 2002, below-average belg, or secondary rains that occur from March through May, coupled with delayed and sporadic meher, or main rains that occur from July through September, led to widespread food insecurity in Ethiopia. Insufficient rains affected pastoral and agricultural areas, particularly the lowlands and midlands of Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Region (SNNPR), Tigray, Oromiya, Amhara, Somali, and Afar Regions. On August 12, 2003, the Government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia's (GDFRE) Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Commission (DPPC) issued an updated appeal for emergency food assistance based on the July assessments led by the DPPC of pastoral areas following the belg rains. An estimated 13.2 million Ethiopians face ongoing food insecurity and require 1.8 million MT of emergency food commodities during the remainder of 2003, an increase of 600,000 beneficiaries and nearly 300,000 MT since September 2002. In addition, the DPPC appealed to donors for 200,000 MT of cereals and 50,000 MT of pulses that, if not used in 2003, can be used as contingency supplies during 2004. According to the Feinstein Center's report, even if the rains return soon to normal levels, affected populations will have significant debt, poor overall health, decreased seed stocks, and fewer livestock than in 2003.

Ethiopia is currently facing three public health crises: malnutrition, malaria, and measles. Widespread malnutrition in Ethiopia is a public health crisis resulting from crop production failures, inconsistent distribution of food rations, single commodity cereal rations, high rates of diarrheal and infectious diseases, and lack of dietary diversity. According to a co-funded USAID/Ethiopia and USAID Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) report by the Feinstein International Famine Center at Tufts University, national nutrition surveys estimate that 11.1 percent of the rural population suffers from severe malnutrition. As a result of high malnutrition rates, the Ethiopian population is increasingly vulnerable to diseases. Under normal circumstances, 75 percent of Ethiopians are at-risk for malaria and the malaria threat increased significantly during 2003 due to the large numbers of severely malnourished children and adults. Despite an accelerated vaccination campaign, a measles outbreak in 2003 remains a serious health risk for unvaccinated Ethiopian children under the age of five.

Numbers at a Glance

Total Affected Population in 2003
13.2 million
Source: GFDRE (Aug. 12, 2003)
Total Food Aid Requirements in 2003
1.8 million MT
Source: GFDRE (Aug. 12, 2003)

Total USAID/OFDA Humanitarian Assistance in FY 2003 (to date): $32,121,240
Total USG Humanitarian Assistance in FY 2003 (to date): $516,797,048

Current Situation

Food insecurity, malnutrition, and disease in SNNPR continue to be primary humanitarian concerns. Food insecurity in SNNPR is rooted in chronic poverty, declining agricultural productivity, and reduced income-earning opportunities. In response to the crisis in SNNPR, USAID/OFDA provided approximately $8 million in FY 2003 for emergency seeds, nutrition, water and sanitation, humanitarian assessments, and project coordination activities.

On September 11, USAID/OFDA's Disaster Assistance Response Team (USAID/DART) conducted an assessment of Guraghe Zone, SNNPR, and parts of East Shewa and Arsi Zones, Oromiya. Although the overall situation in the area has improved since the USAID/OFDA assessment in May 2003 and some areas are expected to produce good crops with continued rainfall, crops in other areas are unlikely to reach maturity by the end of the meher rainy season. The long-term effects of drought and the high population density in SNNPR have severely reduced residents' access to potable water. At present, wells provide approximately five liters per person per day, compared to the generally accepted standard of 15 liters per person per day to meet basic physiological needs. Access to health facilities continues to be a serious problem, and an increase in malaria cases over the coming weeks could further strain the system.

From September 13 to 18, the USAID/DART visited Arsi Zone to assess crop and livestock conditions. While the highland and midland areas show signs of recovery, the situation in the lowlands remains troublesome. Two consecutive years of severe drought have depleted household assets and adversely impacted coping mechanisms. If the meher rains stop before early October, productivity in the Arsi lowlands may be far lower than is necessary for drought-affected communities to recover.

From September 5 to 9, the USAID/DART conducted multi-sectoral assessments in the Afar Region. The USAID/DART reported that good rains in late August and early September relieved serious water shortages in the region, and increased access to water combined with general and supplemental food distribution have improved the health and nutritional situation in Afar. Although local GFDRE officials indicated that the current emergency had passed, chronic issues, including the shortage of potable water, limited access to healthcare, and ongoing shortages of pharmaceuticals, medical supplies, and healthcare personnel in Afar are serious humanitarian concerns.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) stated on August 12 that the combination of malnutrition, the environmental impact of the drought, and the end of the rainy season could lead to widespread malaria epidemics. To prepare for the peak malaria transmission from September to December, USAID/OFDA provided over $1.6 million to UNICEF for malaria intervention activities. Currently, two USAID/OFDA-funded malaria specialists, one seconded to UNICEF and one with the USAID/DART, are increasing malaria monitoring capabilities in the most vulnerable areas and recommending appropriate intervention.

Ethiopian children remain vulnerable to a measles outbreak. The GFDRE plans to immunize approximately 23 million children against measles by the end of October 2003, an increase of 4.4 million from the original target for 2003. High levels of malnutrition affecting the Ethiopian population increase the measles threat.

U.S. Government Response

On October 29, 2002, the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa declared a disaster in response to the continuing drought situation. Heavy flooding in localized areas from concentrated rains prompted the U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia Aurelia E. Brazeal to issue a second disaster declaration for floods on May 9, 2003.

On May 9, USAID/OFDA deployed a USAID/DART to enhance the non-food response to the humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia. The USAID/DART continues to conduct field visits in all six of the drought-affected regions and recommend areas requiring humanitarian support.

In FY 2003, USAID/OFDA provided approximately $31.9 million to support emergency water and sanitation, health and nutrition, and agricultural recovery activities in drought-affected areas nationwide.

USAID/OFDA provided approximately $8.5 million to support health and nutrition programs nationwide through implementing partners UNICEF, WFP, Action contre la Faim (ACF), Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), Concern, GOAL, the International Medical Corps (IMC), Save the Children/USA (SC/USA), and World Vision (WV) to assist more than five million beneficiaries.

USAID/OFDA and USAID/Ethiopia contributed approximately $10.2 million in response to the GFDRE's estimated $10 million seed shortfall countrywide. USAID/OFDA provided approximately $6.2 million to its implementing partners CARE, Comitato Internazionale per lo Sviluppo dei Popoli (CISP), Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Food for the Hungry International (FHI), German Agro Action (GAA), Save the Children Fund/United Kingdom (SCF/UK), Oxfam, and WV for emergency seed distributions for approximately 347,790 drought-affected households in Afar, Amhara, Oromiya, SNNP, and Somali Regions. USAID/Ethiopia provided $4 million to the GFDRE for the procurement of seeds.

USAID/OFDA provided more than $6.8 million to support water and sanitation programs through the American Red Cross (AmRC), CARE, CISP, Cooperazione Internazionale (COOPI), GAA, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), Merlin, Oxfam, SC/US, and WV that provide potable water for approximately 756,000 beneficiaries in the Afar, Amhara, Oromiya, SNNP, and Tigray Regions.

USAID/OFDA provided approximately $3.15 million to CARE, SCF/UK, WV, and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC) for cash for relief activities for more than 256,000 beneficiaries in Amhara, Oromiya, and SNNP Regions.

USAID/OFDA also provided: $575,175 to UN OCHA and the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) for coordination of humanitarian assistance activities nationwide; $468,102 to Tufts University for animal health projects in Somali Region; $1,728,708 to SC/US and the DPPC for nationwide rapid response projects and distribution of humanitarian assistance commodities; $778,869 to the International Resources Group (IRG) for humanitarian assessments; and $566,982 to USAID/Ethiopia and for administrative support.

In response to the May floods in southern Ethiopia, USAID/OFDA provided $110,000 in assistance through the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for the purchase of water containers, cooking pots, plastic sheeting, and blankets.

In FY 2003, USAID/Ethiopia has channeled $21 million in Development Assistance (DA) funds for emergency-related health and nutrition and agricultural assistance programs. USAID/Ethiopia has also devoted considerable personnel resources to alleviate the effects of the emergency. USAID/Ethiopia's programs at the national and regional levels focus on building organizational capacity, as well as supporting food security initiatives, rapid response, food assistance, nutritional surveillance, therapeutic feeding, and the nationwide measles campaign. USAID/Ethiopia also provides ongoing technical support to the DPPC and the Ministry of Health.

The USG is the largest donor of food assistance to Ethiopia. In FY 2003 USAID's Office of Food for Peace (USAID/FFP) programmed 1,014,000 MT of commodities valued at over $457 million through ICRC, WFP, and NGOs. At the start of the emergency in late FY 2002, USAID/FFP provided an initial contribution of 52,400 MT valued at over $23 million. The USG has provided more than 50 percent of the total donor contributions to date. In addition, USAID/FFP has deployed personnel to augment USAID/Ethiopia's Food and Humanitarian Assistance Unit.

The Department of State's Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration (State/PRM) provided more than $6.8 million in FY 2003 to support refugee assistance and protection, feeding, and literacy programs in Ethiopia.


Implementing Partner
FY 2003
ACF Nutrition Afar
ADRA Nutrition SNNPR
AmRC Water/Sanitation Oromiya
CARE Water/Sanitation, Seeds, Cash Grants Oromiya
CISP Seeds, Tools, Water/Sanitation Tigray
Concern Nutrition SNNPR
COOPI Water Amhara
CRS Agriculture, Water/Sanitation Oromiya
DPPC and SC/US Non-food Commodities, Transport Multiple
FHI Agriculture Amhara
EOC Cash Grants SNNPR
GAA Water/Sanitation, Seeds Amhara, Oromiya, SNNPR
GOAL Health/Nutrition Afar, SNNPR
IMC Primary Health, Nutrition Oromiya, SNNPR
ICRC* Disaster Support Somali
IRC Water/Sanitation Oromiya
IRG Disaster Support SNNPR
Merlin Water/Sanitation Oromiya
Oxfam GB Water/Sanitation, Seeds Afar, Oromiya, SNNPR, Somali
SCF/UK Seeds, Cash Grants Amhara, Oromiya
SC/US Water/Sanitation, Seeds, Health Multiple
Tufts University Animal Health Somali
World Vision Health, Livelihoods, Seeds, Water/Sanitation, Cash Grants Afar, SNNPR
UN FAO Coordination Nationwide
UNICEF Health/Nutrition Nationwide
UN OCHA Coordination Nationwide
WFP Nutrition SNNPR
Administrative Costs
GFDRE Seeds Multiple
Carter Center Health/Nutrition Multiple
GOAL Health/Nutrition Afar, Oromiya
Other NGOs Health/Nutrition Multiple
UNICEF Health/Nutrition Multiple
WFP Nutrition Multiple
WHO Health/Nutrition Multiple
World Learning Nutrition Amhara, SNNPR
WFP 435,3400 MT of P.L. 480 Title II and BEHT **Emergency Food Assistance Nationwide
Joint Emergency Operation Plan 548,920 MT of P.L. 480 Title II and BEHT Emergency Food Assistance Nationwide
ICRC 29,740 MT of P.L. 480 Title II Emergency Food Assistance Nationwide
Embassy Addis Ababa Refugee Literacy Program, Refugee Computer Literacy Program Oromiya
IRC Refugee Assistance Tigray, Sherkole Camp
Refugee Assistance Eastern Ethiopia
UNHCR Refugee Assistance Nationwide
WFP Refugee Assistance Nationwide
Total USAID Humanitarian assistance in FY 2003 (to date)
Total USG Humanitarian assistance in FY 2003 (to date)

* Non-food humanitarian assistance commodities for flood victims in Somali Region.
** Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust

Public Donation Information

The most effective way people can assist relief efforts is by making cash contributions to humanitarian organizations that are conducting relief operations. A list of humanitarian organizations that are accepting cash donations for their drought response efforts in Ethiopia can be found at Information on other organizations responding may be available at

USAID encourages cash donations because they: allow aid professionals to procure the exact items needed (often in the affected region); reduce the burden on scarce resources (such as transportation routes, staff time, warehouse space, etc); can be transferred very quickly and without transportation costs; support the economy of the disaster-stricken region; ensure culturally, dietary, and environmentally appropriate assistance.

More information on making donations and volunteering services can be found at:

  • USAID: -> "Disaster Assistance" -> "How Can I Help?"
  • The Center for International Disaster Information: or 703-276-1914
  • InterAction: -> "Guide to Appropriate Giving"

Information on relief activities of the humanitarian community can be found at

USAID/OFDA bulletins can be obtained from the USAID web site at

MAP - USG Programs in Ethiopia