Skip to main content


Ethiopia in north east Africa has a population of over 94 million people and is roughly 15 times the size of Ireland. Much of the country is vulnerable to erratic rainfall, leading to chronic food insecurity in many parts of the country. Despite this, Ethiopia has made great strides to reduce poverty and promote growth. We work with the Ethiopian government, UN agencies and a range of non-governmental organisations to ensure poor rural households are protected and have resources to cope better in times of food shortages and that mothers and children live healthier lives.‌

  • Overview
  • Background
  • Our Work
  • Results


Ethiopia at a glance


94.1 million

Proportion of population living on less than $1.25 a day:


Ranking on UN Human Development Index:

173 out of 187

Partner Country since:


A large political map of Ethiopia

Ireland and Ethiopia

We opened our Embassy in Ethiopia in 1994 when we established our official aid programme. Since then, Irish Aid has worked with a variety of partner organisations including government institutions, UN agencies, civil society organisations, international research institutions and aid agencies to deliver on our aid objectives. In 2014 the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins paid a visit to Ethiopia and in 2017 the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney visited Addis Ababa. There has also been a wide range of people-to-people contact between Ethiopian and Irish citizens, through tourism, education and cultural exchanges, business links and volunteering.

Irish Aid’s overall goal in Ethiopia is to support the country’s growth and poverty reduction plan so that the poor benefit from, and contribute to, equitable economic, social and environmental development.

In order to achieve this goal, we partner with the Ethiopian government, UN agencies and a range of NGOs. We help poor rural households cope with climate shocks, so they can live healthier and more secure lives. We also provide humanitarian assistance to those most in need.

 Some of the major initiatives we support include the Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP), which provides food and cash to millions of rural people living in poverty.  It also contributes to land rehabilitation and the development of infrastructure. Irish Aid contributes to the Ethiopian Humanitarian Fund, providing water, sanitation and health (WASH) facilities, and nutrition to those in need of emergency assistance. We also support projects providing protection and care for women who have experienced Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and support the national health system to deliver maternal health programmes. 

The Irish Aid Country Strategy Programme for Ethiopia provides more detail on the Irish Aid programme. It was developed for the period 2014-2018, and has been extended to the end of 2019.

We are also working to improve trade relations between Ireland and Ethiopia and we support a number of research and learning partnerships between higher education institutions in Ireland and Ethiopia through the Programme for Strategic Co-operation.



Ethiopia is almost unique in Africa because, apart from a five-year occupation by Italy during the Mussolini years, it has never been colonised. Under Emperor Haile Selassie, Ethiopia was a feudal empire until 1974, when a military junta took power.

Two decades have passed since the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) took power and embarked on transforming Ethiopia into a more developed, democratic and egalitarian society. This task remains a work in progress.

The Ethiopian Government strongly emphasises economic growth, while retaining a very strong commitment and focus on human development and poverty reduction. It aims to to transform Ethiopia into a middle income country in the next 12 years, eradicating poverty while promoting equality and equity.

Ethiopia plays an important role in regional politics, mediating, for instance, between the parties in Sudan and South Sudan. It also plays an active role in Somalia both in terms of political dialogue and military support of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Relations with Eritrea remain tense.‎


Ethiopia is now sub-Saharan Africa’s fifth biggest economy. Macro-economic performance has remained strong over the last decade recording annual GDP growth rates of over 7% per year since 2008. Continued rapid economic expansion is possible but it will need careful management. Oil, if discovered, would be a significant development.

Industry accounts for only 9% of the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which is significantly lower than other sub-Saharan African countries, where the average is 32%. There have been some positive developments in attracting flower and horticulture businesses but this employment is low waged, low skilled and may have hidden environmental costs.

In recent years, there have also been increased agricultural exports (coffee, oil seeds, horticulture and khat). Overall, agricultural production has increased but sustained growth in agricultural output is not assured. Ethiopia is still dependent on commercial food imports and food assistance.

Productivity is also constrained by land quality, the size of individual holdings and limited availability of inputs such as seed and fertiliser. Some 85% of Ethiopia’s population live in rural areas and the millions who depend on smallholder farming for their livelihoods are vulnerable to erratic seasonal rainfall, soil erosion, insecurity of tenure and high population growth. The northern region of Tigray is especially vulnerable to land degradation. Inefficiency of domestic markets and inadequate transport infrastructure also hinders distribution.

Market in Tigray, Ethiopia 2011


Ethiopia is ranked 173 out of 187 on the United Nations’ Human Development Index (Ireland is currently ranked seventh). Huge progress has been made in recent years in economic growth and human development and while the food security situation remains fragile and the population continues to increase, there has been no repeat of the famine of 1984-5, when up to one million people lost their lives. Life expectancy in Ethiopia has increased from 56 to 59.7 over the past few years, and, of a total population of more than 80 million, over 23 million people live below the national poverty line. However, the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day has decreased from 46% in 2000 to 27.6% in 201/12.

While poverty rates are improving overall, the severity of poverty being experienced in some rural areas is intensifying, relative to urban areas. And while the rate of population growth is slowing, it remains high at over 2% or two million additional people per year. Ethiopia is expected to have a population of close to 120 million in 2025, the year it aims to attain middle income status. The health sector has recorded some impressive developments in recent years, with mortality rates for children under five decreasing from 123 to 88 per 1,000 live births 2005 and 2011. However, the lack of progress on maternal mortality is a critical concern for the Government and for development partners. Rates remain amongst the worst in the world (673/100,000 in 2005 and 676/100,000 in 2011). Just 34% of Ethiopian women receive some antenatal care from a skilled provider, although this is up from 28% in 2005.

The Ethiopian Government recognises that there is a need to addresses gender-related health issues as these undermine efforts elsewhere to improve child health and nutrition, productivity and economic growth in general.

Ethiopia still faces challenges such as recurring food insecurity. A very significant number of the population remains food insecure. Between 10 and 12 million Ethiopians are likely to need support to meet their basic food requirements in any given year and 44% of the population consume less than their daily calorie requirements. Currently, 44% of children under the age of five are stunted, 27% of Ethiopian women are too thin and 17% are anaemic.

For crisis-prone communities, erratic rains, continuing food price inflation (at 47.5% in February 2012), high fuel prices and related volatile inflation are amongst some of the factors that contribute to extreme vulnerability.

And Ethiopia is particularly vulnerable to climate change, especially variations in rainfall patterns. It is also vulnerable to drought and other natural disasters such as floods, heavy rains, frost and heat waves.

The humanitarian response system in Ethiopia is relatively robust and, in 2011, was attributed with averting major loss of life. However, there are concerns around whether the humanitarian response system can sustain its performance into the future as it is coping with increasing frequency, cost, variety and geographic spread of humanitarian needs within its borders.


Our Work

Irish Aid is the Irish Government’s programme for international development, and has been a core part of our work in Ethiopia since the Embassy opened in 1994. Irish Aid’s overall goal in Ethiopia is to support the country’s growth and poverty reduction plan so that the poor benefit from, and contribute to, equitable economic, social and environmental development. In order to achieve this goal we partner with the Ethiopian government, UN agencies and a range of NGOs to ensure poor rural households are protected and resilient against climate shocks, populations in need of humanitarian assistance receive help, and that the most vulnerable live healthier and more secure lives.

An Ethiopian farmer with his crop

Helping the poorest households feed and support their families

Food insecurity continues to be a challenge for Ethiopia. The Government’s Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP), one of the key programmes supported by Ireland, provides some of the most vulnerable households in Ethiopia, who would otherwise need food aid through emergency channels, with predictable cash or food support in return for vital work on projects such as land rehabilitation.

This is one of the largest social safety net programmes currently operating in Africa and it is making a significant contribution. Over seven and half million people benefitted from the programme in 2013.

Our support is focused on some of the most vulnerable households, especially those headed by women, so that they can cope better with shocks like failing rains or rising food prices. And, in this way, they can avoid resorting to short-term coping mechanisms like selling off their livestock. 

We also work with organisations to improve farmer capacity and credit provision, as well as to develop food production capacities, value chains and alternative livelihood opportunities (on and off farm).

All this is done with a view to supporting people to become self-sufficient and graduate from the Productive Safety Net Programme. We work with a number of partners to help us implement this programme, including the Women’s Association of Tigray and Farm Africa on the Rural Women’s Economic Empowerment Programme.

An ethiopian farmer with her herd

Making social services available with the participation of the rural poor

Ireland supports the Ethiopia Social Accountability Programme, which seeks to ensure full accountability in the delivery of basic services at local level in areas such as health, education and HIV and AIDS services. The resources provided through this programme have resulted in improvements in access to water, better maternal health facilities, additional classrooms, tuition for children in need and separate toilet facilities for girls in schools in rural and urban areas throughout the country.

We support civil society and local communities’ input into the national government programmes and also the advancement of good government through engagement with local government service providers.

Ireland also funds the multi-donor Civil Society Support Programme which supports civil society to contribute to national development, poverty reduction and the advancement of good governance. With the support of NGOs, communities are now involved in identifying the needs of their own areas and making proposals for improvements. Decisions on priorities are made in consultation between local authorities and communities and take account of the needs of women and men and the most marginalised groups.  

Giving communities a say is not only helping improve the quality of services they receive, it is also empowering communities to hold their local government authorities to account for the essential health and education services they require

An Ethiopian woman at a religious ceremony

Improving the health and nutrition of women and children 

We are assisting the Ethiopian Ministry of Health at national and regional levels in their efforts to improve people’s health. In particular, we prioritise funding to maternal and child health including accelerated training of midwives, the prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV and community mobilisation. Essential drugs, vaccines and insecticide-treated bednets are now more widely available in the fight against diseases.   

We have a strong approach to improving nutritionWe are supporting health extension workers to roll out community based platforms for nutrition education and promotion; micronutrient supplementation and de-worming including the provision of folic acid; and promoting breastfeeding, dietary diversity and complementary feeding. In addition we are working with partners to encourage fortification of staple foods in particular iodization and to promote optimal feeding practices and address moderate and acute malnutrition.

How we spend our budget

The Irish Aid Country Strategy Programme for Ethiopia outlines in detail the objectives of Irish Aid’s programme, focusing specifically on supporting initiatives which improve health, nutrition, governance, social protection, resilience of households and humanitarian assistance. It was developed for the period 2014-2018, and has been extended to the end of 2019. 

You can also see our Annual-Report-2017


Ethiopia’s progress

At a national level, Ethiopia has made significant progress in the following areas: 

  • in 2015 farmers assisted in adopting drought resilient farming methods produced 40% more food thatn they would have using traditional pratices, despite the drought caused by El Niño.
  • Maternal mortality has fallen by 70% from 1,400 per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 420 in 2013.
  • The proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day decreased from 55.6% in 2000 to 27.6% in 2012.
  • Between July 2011 and July 2012, essential food and cash support was provided to a total of 6.9 million food insecure households.  
  • Under five mortality rates declined by 44% between 2005 and 2013
  • Almost 80% of all salt produced in Ethiopia in 2012 was iodised at source, an important step in reducing iodine deficiencies.

How we have helped

Irish Aid has played its part in the progress made by Ethiopia:

  • 400,000 people affected by El Niño drought benefited from Irish Aid support in 2015
  • In 2015 5.1 million food-insecure people received cash or fool through th Irish Aid supported Productive  Safety Nets Programme
  • 28.175 poor or marginalised victims of violence, 71% of whom were female, received free legal aid.
  • 7,300 households (1,800 female and 5,500 male) benefited from Climate Smart agriculture innovations in the Tigray region.
  • 76,000 farmers benefitted from improved access to quality seed varities in two regions.
  • So far, we have provided 69,175 kg of improved crop varieties and 189 breeds of livestock to over 7,000 smallholder farmers.


Expenditure by sector Ethiopia 2015