BAKU, Azerbaijan — Ethiopia is the second most populated African country, and according to the IMF, Ethiopia is on track to surpass Kenya by becoming the fourth largest economy in sub-Saharan Africa. Well-established scientific evidence links disability with poverty according to a study by Mitra et al in 2013. This article will concentrate on the causes, consequences and initiatives aimed at addressing disability and poverty in Ethiopia.
What Is Disability, and How Prevalent Is It in Ethiopia?
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines disability as “a level of functioning that is caused by the interaction between a person with a health condition, for instance, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy or depression, and their environment, which comprises negative perceptions, lack of or limited access to public buildings or transportation and limited social assistance.”
According to a report by the WHO in 2018, 17.60% of the population in Ethiopia is living with some form of disability as stated in the activity and participation experiences of people with disabilities in Ethiopia study (2022). This indicates that the prevalence of disabilities in Ethiopia has been significantly underestimated by government estimates derived from ministry surveys and the national census, which ranged from 1.17% to 7.60%. Considering the demographic statistics of the country, a substantial portion of these individuals reside in rural areas.
According to the analysis of the 2015 Economic and Social Survey (ESS), in Ethiopia 12.1% of adults aged 15 and above experience some form of difficulty. 9.3% face some difficulty while approximately 2.8% encounter a significant amount of difficulty. Interestingly, women seem to have a prevalence of functional difficulties (12.9%) compared to men (11.3%). Older individuals are more likely to experience difficulties; around 4.7% for ages 15-29 and 8.2% for ages 30-44, there is a jump to 22% for ages 45-64 and a substantial increase to about 48.6%, for individuals aged 65 and over.
Causes and Consequences
The International Labor Organization (2023) estimates that 95% of people with disabilities live in rural areas where access to basic services is limited and poverty is prevalent.
These persons often rely on their families for support and are forced to resort to begging as a means of financial survival.
According to Abebe et al. (2020), a community-based cross-sectional study conducted in northwestern Ethiopia, the reasons behind disability and poverty in Ethiopia are primarily caused by preventable factors such as illnesses, injuries and accidents, which can be easily avoided. Ethiopia’s disability problem is further compounded by the woefully inadequate health care services available and resource-limited settings.
According to Jemberu et al. (2023), a phenomenological study conducted in Bahir Dar City, North West Ethiopia, investigated some of the consequences of disability in Ethiopia:
- Negative emotional behavior and depression: The majority of the participants expounded that during the onset of their disability, they had engendered onerous circumstances such as seclusion, exasperation and sensations of despondency and hopelessness.
- Unemployment and inadequate income: Despite being university graduates or harboring a fervent desire to toil as employees, disabled people found themselves bereft of opportunities or denied a chance due to their disability.
- Stereotypes and discrimination: Individuals with disabilities found themselves excluded from a plethora of programs, thereby perpetuating a lack of inclusivity within the families and community.
- Inadequate institutional provisions: The majority of respondents articulated that attaining equal access to institutional services proves to be a formidable predicament for individuals with disabilities. In the realm of public services, they have often been apprised that their needs are addressed only as a last resort.
Initiatives Tackling Disability and Poverty in Ethiopia
The Ethiopian National Disability Action Network (ENDAN) is a collective of 25 organizations in Ethiopia that focuses on disability-related issues. Their main goals are to strengthen the capabilities of member organizations and bridge the information gap in the disability field. For two decades, ENDAN has been actively involved in Ethiopia in areas, like Addis Ababa, Amhara and Oromia.
Throughout the years ENDAN has accomplished a range of projects, including:
- Promoting Inclusive Vocational Training and Employment for Persons with Disabilities (PIVTEPD): The objective of this initiative is to enhance accessibility for youth and adults with disabilities to skills training, business skills training, self-employment support, internships and formal employment opportunities.
- Disability Networks Partnering for an Inclusive Society in Ethiopia: This project focuses on establishing networks and partnerships that work towards building a society for individuals with disabilities.
- Gender Safeguarding and Mainstreaming to Enhance the Inclusion of Women with Disabilities: The efforts in this project aim to emphasize gender inclusion and mainstreaming in order to enhance the participation of women with disabilities across sectors.
- Voter education: One of their priorities is to provide voter education and encourage the involvement of individuals with disabilities in the electoral process.
- Inclusive fashion show: It is an initiative that seeks to promote inclusivity by hosting a fashion show that highlights the unique talents and remarkable abilities of individuals with disabilities.
The close link between disability and poverty in Ethiopia creates a vicious cycle. People with disabilities face multiple challenges and disadvantages that impede their potential and well-being, while poverty worsens the causes and consequences of disability. To break this cycle, Ethiopia must adopt an integrated approach that meets the needs and protects the rights of people with disabilities while tackling poverty’s root causes.
– Aysu Usubova