As of August 2021, Ethiopia had 292,731 documented COVID-19 cases and 4,518 deaths in a population of more than 118 million. However, COVID-19’s impact on Ethiopia is far more complicated. Aside from the clear health (medical and mental) implications of COVID-19, the pandemic affected other areas significantly, including poverty, nutrition and sanitation. The United Nation’s Ethiopia Assessment explored the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Ethiopia.
Health and Nutrition
Despite being one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, 26% of Ethiopia’s population lives below the poverty line. In April 2021, there were studies on maternal and child nutrition and health during the early days of the pandemic compared to 2019. The studies showed a decline in these services in March and April 2020. The COVID-19 surge redirected nearly all resources and services. Therefore, there were few resources and services for other programs.
Healthcare workers, government and non-governmental organizations alike helped restore the services. A major factor in mitigating the negative impact of COVID-19 on Ethiopia’s health and nutrition was an awareness campaign. The campaign aimed to teach COVID-19 prevention utilizing volunteers in the community, including frontline workers and university students.
Water, Sanitation and Hygiene
A major factor in winning the battle against COVID-19 is appropriate hygiene, such as handwashing. However, people in Ethiopia do not always have adequate access to water. This places further strain on the community. In Ethiopia, “60-80% of communicable diseases are attributed to limited access to safe water and inadequate sanitation and hygiene services.” For example, people in Ethiopia do not always wash their hands after using the latrine. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the many areas in which lower-income countries are at a disadvantage when it comes to keeping their citizens protected.
However, UNICEF partnered with the ONEWASH National Programme in 2013. This partnership established projects to guarantee access to a safely managed water supply, specifically to vulnerable groups like children and women. UNICEF and the ONEWASH National Programme aim to increase not only equitable and sustainable clean water supplies and sanitation services but also proper hygiene practices in rural and urban areas.
Government and Human Rights
The U.N. assessment on Ethiopia reported that the human rights situation in Ethiopia was improving. Due to government reforms and restructuring, opposition parties, women and different factions had a newfound voice in the government. However, human rights abuses remained. The pandemic exacerbated these abuses resulting in a state of emergency followed by delayed elections.
When the government postponed elections, the Tigray region chose to defy these orders and hold them anyway. This caused tension between the Tigray region and the federal government. Prime Minister Ahmed ordered military action against the Tigray region in retaliation for an attack on the federal government purportedly from the Tigray region. Additionally, in the western and southern parts of the Oromia region, “government counterinsurgency campaigns against armed rebel groups resulted in serious human rights and abuses against local communities by all sides.”
There are long-reaching implications of postponed elections. However, Ethiopia finally held elections in June 2021 with the ruling party winning a second term.
COVID-19’s impact on Ethiopia is evolving as the vaccine rollout continues and the country implements information campaigns on COVID-19 prevention and hygiene and sanitation programs. The World Health Organization (WHO) through COVAX and the ACT accelerator shipped 38 million COVID-19 vaccine doses worldwide, providing vaccines to more than 100 countries. The efforts to fight COVID-19 in Ethiopia are not in vain and continue to positively impact countries around the globe.
– Tiffany Pate