Expert analysis

17 June 2021

Drought, displacement and disabilities: The challenges facing IDPs with disabilities in Ethiopia and ways forward for more inclusive action

The worsening humanitarian crisis in Tigray and ongoing drought, floods and conflict across Ethiopia are driving displacement and exacerbating the needs of internally displaced people (IDPs). With more than 1.2 million new displacements recorded in the country so far this year, Humanity & Inclusion and IDMC have partnered to explore why people with disabilities face compounding challenges during displacement and how to address them. 

By Tewodros Gossa, Senior Inclusion Team Leader, Humanity & Inclusion, Ethiopia and Louisa Yasukawa, Research Associate, IDMC

Ethiopia was already home to 2.7 million IDPs at the end of 2020, making it one of the countries most affected by internal displacement worldwide. We don’t know how many IDPs are living with disabilities, but it has been estimated that about 17.6 per cent of Ethiopia’s national population has a disability. 

In a forthcoming study** on the socioeconomic impacts of internal displacement in Ethiopia, IDMC interviewed 156 people displaced by drought in the Somali region, six per cent of whom were identified as having disabilities. Nineteen per cent of the surveyed displaced households had at least one member with disabilities. 

The findings highlight the compounding effect of being an IDP with a disability. But there are signs of progress.


Physical, financial and informational barriers often make it harder for IDPs with disabilities to leave their homes safely and access support. Indeed, most of the IDPs with disabilities surveyed by IDMC faced challenges when forced to abandon their homes, including moving to another area, finding a place to stay, and accessing assistance available to other IDPs. They also struggled to access enough food to eat and participate in community life. 

“We are in desperate need of shelter, latrines, and we need schools for our children as well. We need necessities so that our lives can get better for good.” – Representative of IDPs with disabilities in Gode woreda, Somali region

Although displacement can affect the health of all IDPs, the impacts are often more severe for people with disabilities. In fact, 70 per cent of IDPs with disabilities surveyed by IDMC said their physical health had worsened since leaving their homes, compared with 43 per cent of IDPs without disabilities (see figure 1). Medication and assistive devices are scarce in displacement settings and almost all surveyed IDPs with disabilities said they don’t receive assistance adapted to their difficulties, including specialised healthcare.

Figure 1: Percentage of IDPs who feel their physical health has worsened, remained the same or improved since displacement, by disability status

While the availability of quality education for displaced children remains limited in general, disability-inclusive educational support is even harder to come by. Schools are frequently inaccessible for children with physical disabilities and teachers often lack training on how to best support children with intellectual disabilities. An absence of inclusive learning materials, such as braille for children with visual impairments, pose further barriers to learning. 

The challenges IDPs with disabilities face, not only in accessing healthcare and education, but also inclusive housing and livelihoods, expose them to new risks and hinder their ability to find durable solutions.


With displacement likely to continue in Ethiopia, how do we address these compounding challenges and ensure people with disabilities are more effectively included in responses? Here we outline three ways to do so and highlight examples of how this is already being translated into action.  

1. Strengthen resilience & preparedness

Given the recurring shocks taking place in Ethiopia, building the resilience of people with disabilities is key to reducing displacement-related risks and impacts. The Gayo Pastoral Development Initiative strengthened the resilience of rural communities to drought and food insecurity by improving access to drinking water and prioritising people with disabilities for cash-for work activities. A similar project sought to include people with disabilities in climate action and train them on how to respond when a disaster strikes.  

2. Improve accessibility

Even if we don’t know exactly how many IDPs have disabilities, we should still assume that some proportion of the displaced population has a disability. The accessibility of facilities and services should therefore be standard practice. While projects are underway to build more inclusive infrastructure for IDPs, mobile services and safe spaces have been effective in providing psychosocial support, health referrals and protection services to IDPs with disabilities who are unable to travel to fixed clinics.  

3. Guarantee participation & consultation

People with disabilities should be able to articulate their concerns and meaningfully participate in finding solutions to their own displacement. Ethiopia’s Durable Solutions Initiative recognises this and organisations of people with disabilities are participating in consultations on broader policy reforms and inclusive local development. 

“Persons with disability have the ability and the capacity, they know their concerns much more than other people and they know their gaps.” – Representative of an international NGO working in the Somali region

Greater efforts are still needed to ensure that IDPs with disabilities across Ethiopia can access the support they require. As IDPs’ experiences vary depending on intersecting factors, collecting more data disaggregated by age, sex and disability status is essential to understanding their diverse needs and assessing the inclusivity of responses. 

IDMC will ensure that all its future assessments on the socioeconomic impacts of internal displacement on IDPs and host communities provide results disaggregated by disability status. 

**The full report from this Ethiopia study will be published in July 2021. To get in touch with Humanity & Inclusion, email