Women and children in Ethiopia walking across a dry rocky landscape.

UNICEF in Ethiopia

A lethal combination of severe drought and the fallout from a brutal armed conflict makes UNICEF’s work in Ethiopia more urgent than ever.

Drought crisis in Ethiopia 

Human-caused climate change has led to record drought across Ethiopia and neighboring countries in the Horn of Africa. Compounding the effects of one failed rainy season after another are bouts intense heat — a lethal combination. 

Crop yields have dwindled, and millions of livestock have died from lack of food and water, destroying livelihoods. Children are starved of nourishment, clean water, safety and security. Some have been sent to work or into early marriage.

UNICEF is on the ground in Ethiopia working with partners to deliver lifesaving support to the most vulnerable children and families, but more support is needed to scale up the humanitarian response.

A young boy herds two donkeys by other animal carcasses in a drought-affected area of Ethiopia.
Abdurazak, who lives in the Shebele zone of Somali region, Ethiopia, is herding the family's donkeys instead of going to school, which has closed because of the drought. © UNICEF/UN0639618/Ayene

The Tigray conflict's legacy: war crimes against women and girls

Ethiopians are also still suffering the effects of a brutal armed conflict. While the fighting in Tigray ended in November 2022, hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians remain displaced and traumatized.

Many atrocities were committed against civilians during the conflict — including rape and sexual violence perpetrated on a "staggering scale" according to the UN Human Rights Council. All sides were to blame; Tigrayan women and girls were targeted by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces as well as regional militias.

The Council reported on these and other war crimes in Tigray by the Ethiopian government and its allies, noting that they had severely restricted humanitarian access to the region, denying some 6 million people access to basic services for over a year and using starvation as a method of warfare — tactics that left 90 percent of the population in need of assistance. 

    In Southern Ethiopia, a 13-year old girl forced to marry covers her face with her hands
    In the Dassenech Woreda district of Southern Ethiopia, a 13-year old girl has been forced to leave school and marry so her family could have the dowry to survive the drought. © UNICEF/UN0651316/Pouget​​​​​​

    Millions of Ethiopians are still displaced and need support

    UNICEF continues to focus its humanitarian response in areas affected by violence and drought. Alongside partners, UNICEF is looking to scale its support for families who were forced to flee their homes for safety, often ending up in open spaces without water, food or shelter. 

    In addition to an estimated 4.2 million Ethiopians who remain displaced, there are 1.5 million who are returning home to rebuild their lives and who also need assistance.

    Ethiopia is also home to 900,000 refugees — 60 percent of them children — from Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea. 

    In Hegalle, Somali region in Ethiopia, thousands of men, women and children are sitting in line in the sweltering  heat waiting to be registered and receive humanitarian aid.
    In Hegalle, in Ethiopia’s Somali region, thousands line up in the sweltering heat waiting to be registered and receive humanitarian aid.  © UNICEF/UN0805098/Pouget

    How UNICEF is meeting urgent needs in Ethiopia

    UNICEF continues to ramp up services for children and families in need. These include mental health and psychosocial support, and family tracing, reunification and alternative care for unaccompanied and separated children.

    Other priorities include:

    Treating and preventing malnutrition

    Together with partners, UNICEF is working to reach and treat malnourished children as their numbers continue to soar; UNICEF remains the world's largest single procurer Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF), a nutritious peanut paste and highly effective treatment for severe acute malnutrition.

    Protecting against disease

    Lack of safe water increases the risk of waterborne disease outbreaks, including cholera, which is on the rise; UNICEF helps prevent the spread by improving sanitation and distributing hygiene supplies. 

    As part of its emergency care and routine vaccine services, UNICEF is also distributing an oral cholera vaccine, but a vaccine shortage is preventing a more widespread campaign.

    Improving access to safe water

    UNICEF provides safe drinking water by trucking and also by fixing malfunctioning systems.

    A mother in Ethiopia holds her smiling, healthy son who had been malnourished but has recovered with UNICEF's help.
    Diyo Kudo, a mother of three, has lost most of her cattle in the drought. Her nine-month-old son Gerbi Guyo, was emaciated but is now healthy after getting Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) from UNICEF. © UNICEF/UN0826965/Tesfaye 
    ​​

    Helping kids get back to learning

    Millions of school-age children in Ethiopia are out of school. In Somali and Oromia regions, for example, students often have to drop out so they can help fetch water — often traveling long distances — or look after other children or livestock while the adults try to find water for their families and cattle.

    Children who are out of school are at risk of exploitation as families are pushed into dangerous coping mechanisms. Migrant and displaced children who are out of school are more vulnerable to being forced into child labor or pressed into early marriage, or subjected to human trafficking. They face an increased risk of gender-based violence and exploitation. All have lasting physical and psychological effects.

    Getting kids back to learning goes hand in hand with child protection. UNICEF provides education — in both formal and informal settings — across Ethiopia's emergency-affected areas, by setting up temporary classrooms at displacement camps, reopening schools, providing learning materials and training teachers, among other measures. 

      A group of children wash their hands and faces using a water point UNICEF helped install outside a health center in Omorate, SNNP Region, Ethiopia.
      UNICEF's efforts to improve access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene are a major focus of its ongoing humanitarian response in Ethiopia. Above, boys wash hands at a water point UNICEF helped install outside a health center in Omorate, SNNP region. © UNICEF/UN0652977/Pouget

      Protecting children's rights

      Children on the move and children caught in conflict and other crises are often at high risk of exploitation and abuse. 

      UNICEF works closely with Ethiopia's regional governments, providing financial and technical support to strengthen protections for children, while raising awareness of the perils of child marriage and child labor and the importance of keeping kids in school. 

      UNICEF works in over 190 countries and territories to help ensure children are healthy, educated, protected and respected. Unrestricted donations give UNICEF the flexibility to direct resources to the most urgent needs.

      Support UNICEF's mission. Your contribution can make a difference. Donate today.

      Donate

      TOP PHOTO: Record drought and high heat are having devastating effects in Ethiopia. Children are hit hardest. © UNICEF/UN0631304/

      Recommended Stories

      Children carry water at the Qurdubey camp in Dollow, Somalia, where UNICEF is providing humanitarian aid to families displaced by severe drought in the Horn of Africa, one of the world's worst climate change-related disasters.

      Earth Day 2023

      For UNICEF, an opportunity to highlight urgent needs of vulnerable children already suffering the worst effects of climate change.

      See all