Development environment


Mid-year update 2017 (January - June)

New displacements (Conflict and violence) IDMC (1 January - 30 June 2017)
New displacements (Disasters) IDMC (1 January - 30 June 2017)

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Country Information

Population UN Population Division (as of 2017)
Total number of IDPs (Conflict and violence) IDMC (as of 31 December 2017)
New displacements (Conflict and violence) IDMC (1 January - 31 December 2017)
New displacements (Disasters) IDMC (1 January - 31 December 2016)
Refugees UNHCR (as of 2016)

Conflict and violence displacement figures

Latest GRID confidence assessment

Displacement type IDPs (Stock) New Displacement (Flow)
Reporting units People
Methodology Key informants
Key informants
Geographical disaggregation Admin 2 or more Admin 2 or more
Geographical coverage No No
Frequency of reporting Other Other
Disaggregation on sex No No
Disaggregation on age No No
Data triangulation No Triangulation Some local triangulation
Data on settlement elsewhere No No
Data on returns No No
Data on local integration No No
Data on deaths No No
Data on births No No

Latest GRID figures analysis

The estimates were produced through IOM DTM assessments. IDMC additionally used IFRC assessment to calculate new displacements between September and October. The main limitation of the estimates is the nature of the DTM which captures only stock figures and new displacements are calculated through positive differences. Therefore, IDMC is not able to capture new displacements which occur in between DTM rounds. For this reason, our new displacement estimate is an underestimate. The figure is significantly higher compared to the past year due escalation of violence along Oromia-Somali border.

Download extended figures analysis (PDF, 46 KB)

Latest GRID stock figure by year of data update

Disaster displacement figures

New displacements

Events timeline


Even after more than a decade of astounding economic development, the number of internal displacements in Ethiopia is persistently high. Ethiopia is thought to be on course to become a middle-income country, yet the confluence of rapid urban expansion, ongoing conflict in the region and high levels of vulnerability to droughts and floods continue to generate numerous new displacements every year.

Drivers of displacement

Internal displacement in Ethiopia is multi-causal and complex. The confluence of numerous drivers and triggers of new displacement is so complex that any attempt to distinguish between displacement caused by conflict or disaster is rendered pointless. The interaction between high levels of existing vulnerability in rural populations; severe droughts, sometimes followed by heavy rains and floods; ongoing conflict; already high numbers of displaced people; and overstretched government capacity create a high-risk environment in which new displacements are likely to continue.

Though just one of the immediate causes of displacement, extreme climate events push Ethiopia’s displacement figures up every year. As 85 per cent of the country’s workforce depends on agriculture and pastoralism, weather-related hazards such as droughts and floods regularly force many people to leave their homes in search of food, water and work. The recurrent and sometimes chronic displacement situations in the country result from a number of structural drivers and dynamic pressures, in particular fragile and low-capacity governance institutions, poverty, and rapid, poorly managed urbanisation.

As a low-income country, Ethiopia ranks as low as 174th on the Human Development Index, and lower still when the score is adjusted for inequality. Over the last decade, the government has increased (donor-funded) spending on public infrastructure, health and social protection, and the country now has the largest social safety net programme in Africa. However, Ethiopia remains one of the biggest recipients of official development assistance and multilateral lending, putting it at risk of debt distress. Coupled with low tax-to-GDP ratios and low public sector management capacities, these fiscal and macro-economic characteristics can translate more or less directly into weak institutions and fragile political, economic and social systems. As a result, the country is regularly considered to be at high risk in terms of political stability, security and government effectiveness.

This limited institutional capacity puts additional strain on already precarious livelihoods and exacerbates the country’s overall vulnerability to shocks and stresses, resulting in many new displacements every year. As a result, local governments with already limited capacities are struggling to provide basic services, promote social cohesion and support the development of sustainable livelihoods.

The drivers of conflict in Ethiopia are multifaceted and have developed simultaneously over time. In the Somali region, tensions over access to resources have shifted to conflict over the ownership of resources and related governance issues. Other important drivers, or enablers, of conflict in Ethiopia are the proliferation of arms and the political exploitation of ethnic and cultural differences that fuel strong ethnic dimensions in local struggles. Thus political opportunism, competition for land and natural resources, and the erosion of social cohesion and law enforcement have all contributed to ongoing conflict and internal displacement.

In addition to – and conflated with – internal constraints and challenges, Ethiopia has been in active conflict with its neighbouring countries Somalia and Eritrea for decades. The two wars from 1977 to 1978 and 1998 to 2000 caused large numbers of displacements within and outside the country’s borders. While Ethiopia produced large numbers of refugees and migrants until the early 1990s, it has since become the largest refugee-hosting country on the continent. Some of the protracted displacement within the country has also arisen from years of internal conflict between government armed forces and insurgency groups in the Somali region and in the south.

Another driver of displacement in Ethiopia is rapid urbanisation. With an urbanisation rate of almost five per cent and almost one in five Ethiopian citizens living in cities, the country is at the forefront of urban development in the region. The rapid growth of Addis Ababa and other urban centres, both planned and unplanned, has displaced large numbers of people within the country.

Patterns of displacement

Although drought is one of the main drivers of displacement in Ethiopia, multiple interlocking factors make it difficult to isolate and estimate the number of people displaced by drought conditions, and surveys rarely capture more than a single reason why people flee. Some displaced people coming from drought-affected areas may name drought as the primary cause for their displacement, while others may refer to loss of livelihood, hunger, or conflict. In pastoral areas of Ethiopia affected by drought, internal and cross-border displacement has been brought on by a number of factors. Lack of rainfall was just one of them, and not necessarily the most significant.

Internal displacement associated with drought was reported inEthiopia on a much larger scale in 2016 and early 2017, but if famine is not avoided, internal and cross-border movements are likely to become far more significant, as was the case during the 2011 famine. Prolonged droughts have often resulted in large movements of people in search of water and food, triggering communal tensions and clashes. The impacts of what was thought to be the worst drought in 50 years, which affected more than 9 million Ethiopians in 2015, will continue to aggravate other drivers of displacement in the coming years, in turn fuelling communal tensions and potential conflict even further. In early 2016, people were displaced by the droughts in the predominantly pastoralist regions of Afar and Somali.

In addition to drought, extreme seasonal rainfall and the resulting floods regularly force people to flee their homes. Though a large majority of those displaced are estimated to return to their areas of origin within several months, the high numbers of initial displacements reflect the severely compromised capacities of individuals and communities to absorb and mitigate the impacts of climate-related stressors.

Internally displaced people (IDPs) have primarily moved been between rural regions, as pastoralists (the demographic most affected by the drought) have migrated from one village to another. Overall, Ethiopia faces high levels of new and protracted displacement.

Unless the underlying drivers are addressed, the current patterns of displacement related to disaster in Ethiopia are expected to persist. Probabilistic modelling of displacement risk shows that Ethiopia will need to deal with significant displacement related to major natural hazards in the future. 

Priority needs and vulnerabilities

The most pressing needs of Ethiopian IDPs are access to livelihoods, restoration of land and property, and an adequate standard of living. With consecutive droughts driving many pastoralists from their land and killing large numbers of cattle, there is an overwhelming need for income generation opportunities among IDPs and in host communities.

In addition, water and food shortages have created widespread malnutrition, and many people are vulnerable to diseases such as acute watery diarrhoea and have no access to healthcare. Other impacts of displacement that need to be addressed include disruption of children’s education, mental health issues, and limited access to health and nutrition services.

Finally, protest activities throughout the country have disrupted humanitarian services, preventing the immediate dispatch of essential aid. Road access improved throughout the country after a state of emergency was declared in October 2016, but the danger of disruptions in assistance persisted.

Selected references

Ethiopia Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper, 2011 (Vol I and Vol II)

Ethiopia Humanitarian Fund Overview 2017

Global Report on Internal Displacement 2017

Africa Report on Internal Displacement 2016

IDMC Laws and Policies database