Despite rapid economic growth, Ethiopia is still one of the world’s poorest and most drought-wracked countries. Roughly a quarter of Ethiopians lived in poverty [PDF] in 2016, according to UN estimates, though this is down from 45 percent of the population fifteen years earlier.
Drought is common, particularly in the country’s north, and led to devastating famines in 1973 and 1984–85, together resulting in the deaths of more than 1.2 million people. In 2015–18, drought conditions necessitated emergency food assistance for more than ten million people. While humanitarian experts say the government has made progress in preventing such emergencies from turning into famine, food insecurity is an enduring threat. The Global Hunger Index, published annually by the Washington, DC–based International Food Policy Research Institute, ranked Ethiopia 97 out of 117 countries in 2019, based on indicators such as undernourishment and stunted childhood development.
Locust infestations across East Africa and other regions beginning in 2019—Ethiopia’s worst in twenty-five years—have exacerbated the problem, with swarms devouring hundreds of thousands of acres of crops. At the same time, the country has been battling the new coronavirus disease, COVID-19, though a swift government response that included large-scale household screenings and a national emergency declaration appears to have kept the number of cases low. “In the past few years, especially with the occurrence of the Ebola outbreak, that has really helped us as a continent but also for us as a country to create some system improvements and changes that have really helped for the COVID-19 response,” Health Minister Lia Tadesse said at an October 2020 CFR event. Read the full story here.