Both household-level and systemic changes are needed to ensure that households in Ethiopia are able to withstand frequent, prolonged shocks such as drought.

camel herder in Ethiopia


Ethiopia has experienced significant poverty reduction in recent years, but is home to one of the most shock-prone areas of the world. Household, community, and systemic changes are all necessary to increase resilience.

Complex Risk Environment

Ethiopia is vulnerable to severe, recurring droughts as well as increasing rainfall variability and rising temperatures, conflict, invasive species, and environmental degradation. Prolonged drought from 2015 to 2017 followed by heavy rain and flooding in 2018 left many households facing significant food insecurity. These prolonged and recurrent natural disasters put development gains made in recent years at risk and place a significant burden on the national government and the international humanitarian community.

Resilience Approach

The Government of Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP), to which USAID is the largest bilateral donor, is one of the largest safety net programs in the world. The program has a target caseload of more than six million beneficiaries and aims to prevent the depletion of household assets, stimulate markets and improve access to services, and rehabilitate and enhance the natural environment through labor-based public works.

In addition, international organizations work in Ethiopia to increase food security, build sustainable livelihoods, and improve vulnerable households’ ability to withstand shocks. Ethiopia’s drylands are particularly vulnerable to weather-related shocks, so activities that improve market linkages, increase access to key livestock inputs and better livestock health services, help construct water harvesting schemes, and support livelihood diversification are particularly important for building resilience.

Opportunities for Strengthening Resilience

The 2015-17 drought demonstrated a number of factors that help boost households’ recovery from shocks in Ethiopia. These include increased pastoralist access to fodder and water, markets, and veterinary services; livelihood opportunities; investing in human and social capital; and increasing access to hazard insurance and correctly timed food and cash transfers. However, limited livelihood diversification, coupled with a lack of off-farm income and an increasing number of landless youth, poses significant challenges to the country. Systemic factors that currently hinder community resilience must be addressed through programming that complements household-level interventions.

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