The overall objective of this project was to contribute to reducing chronic food insecurity and reversing processes of destitution in Ethiopia, by improving policymakers’ understanding of the nature, causes and extent of destitution in Ethiopia’s Northeastern Highlands.
The project aimed to define and quantify destitution, to identify how people become destitute and what are the most appropriate policy measures to address destitution. The project drew conceptually on a modified sustainable livelihoods framework and employed a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods.
The people of Wollo in northern Ethiopia are not only famine-prone and chronically food insecure, they are also desperately poor. These factors are interrelated, but national policy-makers and the international community have adopted a ‘crisis management’ strategy that has resulted in dependence on food aid, rather than addressing the underlying problems of poverty and livelihood insecurity. The ‘Wollo Destitution Study’ was commissioned by Save the Children UK, funded by DFID and implemented by a research team from IDS Sussex and Addis Ababa University, in collaboration with the Amhara Regional Government, with the objectives of investigating the scale, causes and consequences of destitution in Wollo, and suggesting appropriate policy responses.
In a stratified random sample of 2,127 households, 14 per cent were found to be ‘destitute’ – defined as unable to meet their subsistence needs, lacking access to productive assets, and dependent on transfers – and this figure was increasing over time. A parallel collapse in better-off households is equally alarming for the poor, who depend on their wealthier neighbours for access to assets, employment and support through crises. Female-headed and elderly-headed households are more likely to be destitute, and destitute households are smaller than average. Recurrent drought is a ‘poverty ratchet’ for entire communities in Wollo, but individual families can become destitute following health shocks or adult deaths.
For the ‘working poor’, a two-pronged strategy of support to agriculture and development of non agricultural livelihood activities is advocated. Since destitution is correlated with distance from towns, one specific policy recommendation is to promote small town growth throughout the Ethiopian highlands, to improve access to markets, services and jobs. For those unable to work, ‘social protection’ is urgently needed. Investment in public services (health centres, schools) and infrastructure (roads, water supplies) is a prerequisite for creating an environment within which destitution processes in Wollo might be reversed.