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UN Programme on Disability   Working for full participation and equality

2001 Observance of the
International Day of Disabled Persons

International Day of Disabled Persons 3 December 2001

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 social problems.

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 in particular.

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.


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.

a)  Impairment:-

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.

b) 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 recovery.

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 person’s 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 Ethiopia.

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. 


            Table  3.1            Distribution OF DISABLED Population by Region:-1994 Census

  Region All persons PWD’s Ratio
1 Tigray 3,134,470 90,742 2.80%
2 Amhara 13,828,909 281,291 2.03%
3 Ormiya 18,465,449 333,653 1.80%
4 South N. 10,368,449 174,941 1.69%
5 Addis Ababa 2,100,031 45,936 2.18%
6 Diredawa 248,549 4,226 1.70%
7 Gambella 162,271 2,581 1.59%
8 Benshangul Gumuz 460,325 7,341 1.59%
9 Afar 1,097,067 14,140 1.29%
10 Hariari 130,691 2,909 2.23%
11 Somali 3,382,702 34,156 1.00%
  Total 53,379,035 991,916 1.85%

            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 People’s Region and the Tigray Region indicates the third and the fourth grades of prevalence.

            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 Census Table

  Region Visually Physically Hearing Mental Leprosy Multiple Others
1 Tigray 37,365 22,915 16,761 6,126 1,325 3,279 2.971
2 Amhara 110,059 77,857 52,418 14,216 9,982 8,817 7.942
3 Oromiya 93,425 112,695 71,391 21,914 12,536 10,638 11.054
4 South N. 47,886 63,002 32,875 11,721 6,852 5,269 7.336
5 Addis Ababa 12,888 15,320 6,402 5,912 2,673 1,887 854
6 Dirdawa 942 1,396 608 857 77 233 116
7 Gambella 917 846 318 176 115 128 81
8 Benshangul G. 2,141 2,686 1,618 328 173 262 136
9 Afar 4,516 5,722 2,428 533 46 612 283
10 Harari 704 790 575 348 334 99 59
11 Somali 9,203 15,952 4,826 2,153 277 642 1.103
      Total 320,046 319,181 190,220 64,284 34,390 31,866 31,953

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 of disabilities.

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 with disabilities.
  • 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 development.

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 PWD’s. 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 NGO’s. 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)
  • ILO
  • 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 handicapped.

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 issues.

As it is clearly indicated  there is no coordination of rehabilitation services in the country, however there is indirect cooperation between governmental and NGO’s. 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 evaluation

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 example:

  • 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 country’s 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 others:-

-  Implementing the National programme of action concerning PWD’s.

-   Collecting, compiling and organize data on disability issues.

-  Organizing and conducting advocacy and awareness promotion   activities

-  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 actions.
  • 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 edited.

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United Nations, 2003-04
Department of Economic and Social Affairs
Division for Social Policy and Development