Destitution in Ethiopia’s Northeast Highlands (Amhara Region)

Published on 1 April 2003

This research project into the magnitude, causes and consequences of destitution in the former Wollo province of Ethiopia was motivated by combination of empirical and policy concerns.

The empirical context is an apparent contradiction between ‘official’ evidence from household surveys, that poverty in rural Ethiopia has fallen significantly since the early 1990s; against qualitative evidence from NGOs and other ‘unofficial’ sources that millions of people in the historically famine-prone northeastern highlands are worse off and more vulnerable than ever.

The policy context is Ethiopia’s chronic dependence on food aid, and a growing concern that the diversion of increasing volumes of international assistance to meet emergency appeals and annual food deficits is displacing investment in efforts to address the underlying causes of chronic food insecurity.

A related objective of the study was to refocus policy-makers’ attention away from acute or transitory food insecurity towards the needs of a large (and possibly growing) group of people living permanently in extreme poverty, or ‘destitution’ – a highly vulnerable group which has been neglected in current policy discourses around poverty reduction and the Millennium Development Goals.


Stephen Devereux

Research Fellow


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