2001 Observance of the
International Day of Disabled Persons
United Nations expert group meeting on disability-sensitive policy and
programme monitoring and evaluation
UNHQ, New York, 3-5 December 2001
Country Paper: Ethiopia*
1. Country Profile:
Ethiopia is situated in East Africa, which is commonly known as the Horn of
Africa. It stretches from 3 degrees North to 18 degrees North latitude and from 33
degrees East to 48 degrees East longitude. It is bounded by Eritrea in North
and North East, Djibouti and Somalia in the East and Sudan in the West and North West.
Ethiopia is the ninth largest country in the African continent with an area of about
1,223,600 square kilometers. The climate is temperate ranges from a minimum of 16 degrees
centigrade to a maximum of 29 degrees centigrade. The average population density is 41 per
square kilometer, but there is a wide range with the highest density in the central
plateau and the lowest density in the low lands.
Moreover, Ethiopia is a country of great geographical diversity with high mountains,
plateaus, deep gorges and river valleys. The latitudinal differences range from 4620
meters above sea level to 116 meters below sea level.
Ethiopia is an agrarian country with 53.3 million inhabitants with an average
annual growth rate of 2.9 percent (CSA, 1994). This makes Ethiopia the third
most populous country in Africa, next to Nigeria and Egypt. Out of the total population
the overwhelming majority, about 88.5 percent are living in rural areas while the
remaining 11.5 percent reside in urban areas.
When we see the age structure of the total population, 48.3 percent are below 15 years
of age showing a youth dominated population, while 5.2 percent are 60 years and over
representing the elderly population. Ethiopia is one of the least developed
countries in the world. The reasons behind these problems are the recurrent drought,
internal disorder, the various negative impacts of the long civil war and the
mismanagement of the previous military government. Consequently, living conditions have
tended to deteriorate and this in turn resulted in severe unemployment, poverty and other
In spite of the many challenges the country faces, it is currently undergoing
fundamental economic, social and political transformations. The changes political
situation in Ethiopia including democratization process, decentralization of power and
enhancing the role of the regions to exercise more power and formulation of various
policies including development in general and the situation of persons with disabilities
From the context of the efforts made by the government of FDRE with regard to the
situation of persons with disabilities it is encouraging to see that rehabilitation
services are being rendered in various cities such as Addis Ababa, Harare, Dessie etc. and
this implies that the services are limited in urban areas.
2. DEFINITIONS of CONCEPTS
It is important that the meaning of the main technical terms should be well understood
and this is not easy, as there are so many different definitions reflecting the views of
those who make the definitions. Accordingly it will be appropriate to make some
conventional definitions.Therefore, for the convenience of interaction, in this paper the
followings were the major definition of concepts.
Is any loss or abnormality of psychological, physiological, or anatomical
structure of function. /WHO, 1993/
Impairments of some organs of functions can lead to disability.
Is any restriction of lack (resulting from an
impairment) of ability to perform activity in the normal manner for a human
being. /WHO, 1993/
Disability may be temporary, lasting for a limited period, or
permanent, not expected, or later on, acquired. It can also be
progressive, going for the worst, or regressive, leading to improvement or complete
c) A Handicap:-
Can be defined as a disadvantage for a given individual, resulting form an
impairments or disability, that limits or prevents the fulfillment of a role
that is normal depending on age, sex, social and cultural factors, for the
individual. /WHO, 1993/
Impairment and/or disability may or may not cause handicap depending on the
individuals ability to cope with the situation.
In general, any condition becomes a handicap if it causes a problem either to
a person with this condition or to the people
she/he lives with in the immediate family or in the wider community.
Handicaps cover a wide range of severity
from mild to those that influence a larger part of a persons
life. The handicap can be regarded in terms of being or not being able to play the
roles in the family, the community, in the work setting which are attributed to age, sex
social position or status. That is the handicapped person is
prevented or limited from performing some of the roles which
the able-bodied person is able to play without difficulties.
d) Prevalence of Disability:-
It is envisaged that the combination of poverty, ignorance, war,
famine and drought with the absence of adequate preventive and rehabilitation
services could produce high prevalence of disability in
We do not have national disability survey in Ethiopia. However national
population and housing census has been conducted in 1994. According to this report from
the total population of 53 million it was revealed that 991,916 i.e, 1.85 % were persons
with disabilities . On the other hand International reports by WHO estimate that the
disabled persons account for atleast 10 percent of any given National
age cohort. Based to this estimate the total number of disabled persons
in Ethiopia reaches about 5 million.The recent estimate of the UN expert group
gave a prevalence rate of 5% of world population are persons with disabilities, Based on
this more than 2.5 million of the Ethiopian population are disabled.
3.1 Distribution OF
DISABLED Population by Region:-1994 Census
Table 1 shows that
the highest number of persons with disabilities is in Oromiya Region 333,653 and the
second is that of Amhara Region (218,291) while the southern Nations Nationalities and
Peoples Region and the Tigray Region indicates the third and the fourth grades of
Therefore, we can
assume that different percentages were reported for prevalence of disability in Ethiopia.
Table 3.2 Distribution OF DISABLED Population by Region and type of Disability:-1994
Table 3.2 reveals that out of the total 991,916 disabled persons 320,046 are visually
impaired, 319,181 physically disabled, 190,220 hearing impaired, 64,284 mentally impaired,
34,390 leprosy patients, 31,866 multiple disabled and 31,935 are persons with other types
4. Some of the key Issues of persons with disabilities
It has been
recognized that economic backwardness as well as man made and natural catastrophes that
are persistent have their own contributions in aggravating social problems. As indicated
in the introduction, the number of the social groups that are the beneficiaries of the
services of the social walfare sector is on the increase along with population growth. As
a result the number of persons with disabilities, that benefit from the services is very
small compare to the number of those that are in need of the services.
It should be noted
that a person is disabled not only by the causes of disability but he is mainly disabled
when he is denied the opportunities generally available in the community.
Hence, in Ethiopia some of the key issues of disabilities that should be considered in
the rehabilitation programmes are :
- The traditionally held views that disability is seen as punishment of God on the
disabled and his family. It is also considered as a curse from elders or forefathers or an
attack of evil spirit.
- Based on the public prejudice and sterotypes against them, disabled persons develop a
negative attitude of inadequacy about their capability to participate in the social
and economic activities.
- Disabled persons are denied opportunities for employment because the employers are
unwilling to employ them even in jobs which they are actually capable to performing.
- With out adequate and accurate data on the nature and problems of disability, prevention
and rehabilitation, it is difficult to prepare and design projects, future plans and
programmes of rehabilitation which are undoubtedly indispensable for the development of
the various rehabilitation services.
- Lack of access to resources is an obstacle to the development and implimentation of
projects and programmes of rehabilitation services required to meet the needs of the
disabled in the country.
- Very little has been done so far concerning dissemination of information and public
awareness campaigns with a view to bringing about a positive public attitude about persons
- Without the use of the necessary artificial appliances, aids and devices, disabled
persons will not be able to engaged in economic and social activities in the community.
- Infrastructures, such as roads, public places, buildings and houses are designed and
constructed for the general public without taking into consideration the needs of disabled
persons and are inaccessible to them.
- Lack of training and educational programmes are factors hindering the development of
qualified personnel in the field of rehabilitation and this implies the majority of
disabled persons are illiterate and unaware of their rights.
- Persons with disabilities are denied equal opportunities in society and are subjected to
various forms of descrimination and segregation.
- Disabled persons are thought as economically dependent and treated as irrelevant to
5. Trends related to disability
In Ethiopia the main governmental organ responsible for the provision of social and
vocational rehabilitation of persons with disabilities is the Ministry of Labour and
Social Affair. Under this Ministry the Rehabilitation Affairs Department at central level
is in charge of providing rehabilitation services for persons with disabilities. With
regard to regions it is the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs Bureau that implement
all rehabilitation activities.
Besides, there are many organizations and agencies involved in rehabilitation services
for PWDs. In the country the plight of the disabled and prevention of disability is
addressed to be a multisectorial approach involving many branches of several Ministries
and organizations such as, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education and other NGOs.
The services they render include education of visually, aurally and mentally disabled
children, provision of medical care, vocational training programes, employment
opportunities, reunification, shelters, food, appliances, subsides etc. Currently the
services mentions above are provided in piecemeal approaches based on the aims and
objectives of the organizations establishment.
Even though much attempt has been done to change the lives of these groups of the
society comparing with the ever growing number, the efforts has become very limited and
also most of the services provisions have been focused on institutional care.
It should be noted that, there are many non- governmental organizations involved in
rehabilitation services in the country. The major ones are the following.
- Cheshire Homes
- The Christian Blind Mission
- Handicap International
- All African Leprosy and Rehabilitation Center
- The German Leprosy and Rehabilitation Association
- Mekane Yesus Church
- Addis Ababa Prostetic Orthotic Center
- Save the children and /UK
- Swedish Save the Children (RADDA BARNEN)
- The United Abilities Company
The above mentioned non-governmental organizations deliver services to visually,
physically, hearing, leprosy and multiple disabilities and others. Most of them focuses
their services in urban areas and their coverages is very much limited.
At present, persons with disabilities in Ethiopia has organized in various ventures to
overcome their problems and safeguard their rights and privileges. This movement has
started many years ago being Ethiopian National Association for the Blind (ENAB) the
oldest one subsequent processes in the establishment of other associations was carried out
and eventually numerous associations and self help groups of persons with disabilities
have been emerged in the country. Some of the well known associations are:
- Ethiopian Federation of Persons with Disabilities
- Ethiopian National Association for Physically Handicapped
- Ethiopian National Association for the Blind
- Ethiopian National Association for the Deaf
- Ethiopian National Association for Leprosy Patients
- Support Organization of the Mentally Handicapped
The target groups of the associations mentioned above are the blind, the deaf,
the leprosy patients, the mentally handicapped, the physically handicapped and multiple
The associations in Ethiopia are basically involve themselves in the formulation of
policies and proclamation as well as various programmes related to disability issues. More
over they are actively engaged in the celebration of International Day of Persons with
Disabilities the white cane day and International week of the Deaf, and other related
As it is clearly indicated there is no coordination of rehabilitation services in
the country, however there is indirect cooperation between governmental and NGOs. It
is believed that the existing coordination problem will be solved when the Developmental
Social Welfare Policy is fully implemented throughout the country.
6. Future directions in disability sensitive policy and programme
Ethiopia is a country where social welfare and social security services are found at
infancy stage, as such services cover an insignificant proportion of the population. The
social groups that are not receiving the services are exposed to problems of social life
and facing difficult situations.
Even though poverty is considered as the underlying cause to all existing problems,
structural and policy issues are also barriers to effective and sustainable social
welfare and security programmes. Ethiopia for example, had no social welfare policy until
very recently. Realizing the problems the Government is currently giving due attention and
many practical interventions are under way. Among others the following are cited as an
- The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, being aware of the negative impact brought
about by the non-existence of social welfare policy in Ethiopia produce a new
Developmental social welfare policy in the year 1997. The policy indicates the intention
of the Government and gives only general guidelines and directions in assisting vulnerable
groups of society to become self-reliant. It aims at creating an enabling environment
through which these groups can participate for the betterment of their own life.
- In line with the provisions under the policy and the United Nations Standard Rules on
the equalization of opportunities for persons with disabilities, a National programme of
action concerning persons with disabilities has been formulated. The objective of the
action programme is to provide the most appropriate rehabilitation services for PWDs and
it encompasses prevention of disability at national level with the involvement of relevant
government and non government bodies engaged in the field of rehabilitation of PWDs.
In addition, based on the above documents mentioned as well as the countrys
objective reality, a five years strategic plan for PWDs has been drafted that could be
effectively implimented. This strategic plan can be taken as a guiding document for the
next five years. On the other hand, it is intended to make this strategic plan complete
and comprehensive through continious monitoring, evaluation and aquired experiences. To
this effect the five years strategic plan has launched various activities, among
- Implementing the National programme of action concerning PWDs.
- Collecting, compiling and organize data on disability issues.
- Organizing and conducting advocacy and awareness promotion
- Conduct Study and research activities
- Strengthen prosthetic orthetic production centers and open new once.
- Capacity building particularly, training, provision of materials, programme and
project preparation, finance and administration.
- The constitution of Ethiopia under Article 41 states that The Government shall,
according to its economic capacity, do its best to rehabilitate and support persons
with physical and mental disabilities, the elderly and children with out parents or foster
parents. The fact that the issue of disability has been addressed is an important
step forward and there is no doubt that it will have a tremendous impact on future
- Persons with disabilities are usually discriminated with respect to recruitment,
salaries, benefits and training opportunities. Realizing this, the Government has enacted
a law on the rights of disabled persons regarding employment i.e. proclamation No.
101/1992, with the objective of curtailing discrimination.
- In addition to these, the Government have been developed various polices such as
Education policy, Health policy, Economic policy, Population policy etc. and have created
conducive environment and promising prospects for development in general and for the well
being of PWDs and their families in particular. Therefore, the question of putting
policies in to concrete action is a prime importance to PWDs.
* The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily
represent those of the United Nations Secretariat. This document has not been formally
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