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Overview | World Vision's history in Ethiopia | World Vision in Ethiopia today


Ethiopia is home to a remarkable mosaic of peoples, languages, and cultures punctuated by varied landscapes. The population is overwhelmingly rural, with the highest densities in a region called the central highlands. Ethiopia’s central highland plateau, with heights reaching more than 4,900 feet, accompanies other topographical extremes: rugged highlands, dense forests, and hot lowland plains. The slow drying of Africa’s Sahel region affects eastern and northeastern Ethiopia, where the frequency of droughts has increased in the past two decades. Ethiopia is bordered by Somalia and Djibouti to the east, Kenya to the south, and Sudan to the west. The capital city of Addis Ababa (the name means “new flower”) is located in the center of the country and is home to the headquarters of the African Union.

Ethiopia has had a long history of agricultural innovation, but vast deforestation in recent years has contributed to soil erosion and loss of nutrients in the soil. Still, nearly 80 percent of Ethiopians work in the agriculture sector. Major crops include coffee, potatoes, grain, sorghum, and castor beans. Ethiopia’s natural resources consist of small reserves of gold, platinum, copper, natural gas, and hydropower.

The second most populous country in Africa, Ethiopia has 70 different people groups, with more than 80 different languages spoken. Amharic had been the language of primary school instruction, but it has been replaced in many areas by local languages such as Oromifa and Tigrinya. Guaragigna, Somali, Arabic, and English also are spoken. Poverty is paramount and widespread and often is linked to the degradation of the environment and natural resources. More than 38 percent of Ethiopians live below the poverty line, and 23 percent live on less than a dollar a day. The country ranks in the bottom seven percent globally in annual per capita income.

Ethiopia map

Ethiopia flag 

Country statistics 
Population81 million
Land mass435,186 square miles
People per square mile186
Life expectancy49 years
Under age 5 mortality rate123/1,000
Literacy rate36%
Access to safe water22%
Average annual incomeUS$180

Ethiopia also has the sixth largest number of people (approximately 1 million) living with HIV and AIDS of any country in the world. There are 575,000 children who have been orphaned due to AIDS-related deaths of parents. As a result, more children need to stay home to take care of their fragmented families. Only 26 percent of Ethiopia’s children attend secondary school.

The oldest independent country in Africa, Ethiopia’s history dates to ancient times. The Ethiopian Empire was founded by Menelik I, said to be the son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. This monarchy maintained its freedom from colonial rule; the one exception being the Italian occupation of 1936-1941. In 1974 a military junta, the Derg, deposed Emperor Haile Selassie (who had ruled since 1930) and established a socialist state. The Derg regime was toppled in 1991 by a coalition of rebel forces. A constitution was adopted in 1994, and the first multiparty elections were held a year later. A two-and-a-half-year border war with Eritrea ended with a peace treaty in December 2000. Voting irregularities in the 2005 parliamentary elections led to mass protests and more than 100 deaths.

The effects of a severe macroeconomic imbalance, civil war, a social crisis involving millions of displaced persons, and a succession of devastating famines began to manifest themselves in the early 1980s. Four major famines occurred in that decade, killing approximately 2 million people. In each case, international donors provided millions of tons of food aid. Today, a high level of food insecurity still exists due to drought, environmental degradation, and ongoing flooding.

In 2006, Ethiopia, which had clashed in the past with Somalia’s Islamist group, began gathering troops near the border, in support of Somalia’s weak transitional government. At the end of the year, Ethiopia launched air strikes against the Islamists, and in a matter of days, Ethiopian ground troops and Somali soldiers regained the capital city of Mogadishu, forcing most of the Islamists to flee the country. Ethiopia announced that it would keep its troops in Somalia until stability was assured and a functional central government had been established, ending Somalia’s 15 years of anarchy.

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World Vision's history in Ethiopia

In 1971, World Vision began its first relief project to help the Nuer people, refugees from the civil war in Sudan. About the same time, in the Ogaden area between Ethiopia and Somalia, villagers suffered severe consequences of a drought. Thousands were left destitute when they lost most of their livestock. Between 1971 and 1975, World Vision drilled wells to provide water for villagers and their livestock; improved medical, economic, and educational standards for villagers in southwest Ethiopia; and helped indigent children living in the streets of Addis Ababa through a rehabilitation program.

In 1976, World Vision’s sponsorship program began assisting 2,000 children. During the period between 1976 and 1980, child sponsorship projects grew, impoverished families were cared for, medical treatment was provided, and proactive measures were taken to mitigate the effects of future natural disasters.

In 1981, one of the worst droughts in Ethiopia’s history claimed many lives through starvation. In 12 of the country’s 14 regions, food shortages affected thousands, and 80 to 100 percent of crops were lost. In response, World Vision implemented a massive relief operation, saving thousands of lives. Fourteen drought-related projects were active between 1981 and 1985, airlifting food and medical aid to meet the needs of those affected. From 1986 to 1990, as drought conditions eased, certain projects within the Ethiopia program were scaled back from the $70 million budget necessary to fund relief efforts to $43 million. Rehabilitation efforts continued to restore pre-drought conditions for many.

After the turn of the century, World Vision continued to help families and children in Ethiopia. In the northeast region of the country, a program in the Borkena Valley helped reduce the transmission of trachoma, a disease that causes blindness. Project leaders succeeded in offering afflicted people much needed surgery, antibiotics, and facial cleanings. The Ethiopia Omosheleko HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Project focused on raising awareness to reduce the spread of all sexually transmitted diseases, alleviating the social impact of HIV and AIDS in target communities, supporting HIV testing institutions, and increasing care and support to patients.

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World Vision in Ethiopia today

World Vision is committed to partnering with the people of Ethiopia to enhance their lives today and to help enact sustainable solutions for the future of their communities, families, and children. Currently, 187,255 children are registered in the World Vision sponsorship program. Several times this number of children and other family members benefit from World Vision activities. Of these registered children, many have World Vision sponsors in other countries. U.S. donors sponsor more than 75,000 girls and boys. In addition, World Vision operates 65 development programs, 22 of which are supported by U.S. donors. Highlights of these efforts include the following:
  • The Ethiopia Rural Water Project’s mission is to increase safe water sources, provide adequate sanitation facilities, and organize water management committees in seven community development areas. So far, in Yabukuna, a well has been constructed, a generator house has been built, and construction on a concrete reservoir is 75 percent complete. In Adama, a 643-yard water supply pipeline has been maintained. Eleven ventilated pit latrines and 21 dry pit latrines have been constructed, 792 latrines slabs have been produced and distributed, and 20 refuse pits have been built. The project is slated to continue through September 2011.
  • The Afar Area Development Program assists the semi-nomadic Afar people in the northeastern region by providing a holistic, community-based approach to meet the needs of poor farmers with a special emphasis on children and women. This includes building veterinary posts and livestock vaccination sites; teaching improved farming methods to increase agricultural productivity; increasing immunization coverage; and offering access to primary education for children.
For further information about World Vision’s programs in Ethiopia, please contact the United States office.

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