Study highlights chronic poverty of Ethiopia's urban old


Tewabech, 70, struggles to survive and provide for her three grandchildren. Tewabech, 70, struggles to survive and provide for her three grandchildren. HelpAge International 2010 A new report launched in Addis Ababa reveals how older Ethiopian city-dwellers are facing severe food shortages and poverty.

The study was carried out by HelpAge International and five local partner organisations and coordinated by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). It gives a clearer picture of how older people in Addis Ababa are affected by increasing urbanisation, chronic food insecurity, rising prices and the erosion of traditional family support.

Shocking results

About 145,000 people over 60 live in Addis Ababa, just over 5% of the city's population. Over 1,000 older people were interviewed for the study.

The results make stark reading:

  • More than 88% of homeless older people and 66% of those living at home do not have enough to eat.
  • 79% of all older people surveyed eat only once or twice a day.
  • 79% of homeless older people get water by begging.
  • 93% of all older people surveyed have no bath or shower.
  • 71% of homeless older people use rivers or drains for washing and 29% do not wash.
  • 78% of all older people surveyed have a chronic health problem.
  • One in three older people surveyed do not know about the free government health service for poor people.

Battling to survive

Tewabech, 70, migrated to Addis Ababa many years ago. She has only one surviving daughter who abandoned her three children aged between eight and 13 years for her mother to care for.

Tewabech used to brew and sell Tella (a traditional Ethiopian drink) for a living, but the income she makes is not sufficient to take care of four people.

She says: "I am getting weaker but I continue battling to survive as best as I can for as long as my strength allows me to."

She pays two Birr (US$ 0.25) rent per month for her dilapidated house with a leaky roof so low that she cannot stand up straight.

She also pays some of her neighbours to fetch water for her from the nearby well. She pays them 10 cents (US$ 0.007) per bucket.

Food and income security must be improved

Tewabech's life has improved since Agar Ethiopia - one of the local NGOs that participated in the study - stepped in.

"Over the past six months, they have brought food to my home and I have received rations including oil, spaghetti, lentils, coffee, wheat and sugar. I get a contribution of 50 Birr (US$ 3.67) per month, and they also renovated my house. Life is so much better."

The report makes recommendations for improving older people's food and income security, access to healthcare and living environment. It calls for older women to be given special emphasis.

The study was carried out in collaboration with the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and the Addis Ababa Bureau of Labour and Social Affairs. It is a joint publication of United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), IOM and HelpAge International   

Download the sudy here:
The vulnerability and living conditions of older people in Addis Ababa (1.9 mb)

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Comments submitted for this page

  • Meseret (17 August 2012)

    Yes I feel it Always and I also asking my self what can I Do for them ?

  • Web editor (30 December 2010)

    Hi llc, we'd be delighted to have you as a fan! To go to our Facebook page, just click on the Facebook icon where it says "Follow us" in the right hand column. Thanks for your support and happy new year!

  • llc (28 December 2010)

    Do you people have a facebook fan page? I looked for one on twitter but could not discover one, I would really like to become a fan!

  • Yared Agizachew (08 December 2010)

    This is what makes my heart cry every day.Seniors have been forgotten by the present generation.My wife & I started to help few older people from our little income & we have a vision to help them in an organized way.So, any body who read this (specially Ethiopian government & it's citizens)stand together to help them.

  • Christine (03 December 2010)

    Oh, why doesn´t the government of Etiopia do anything! This is just... wrong wrong wrong!

  • Deborah (25 October 2010)

    I lived in Ethiopia for 2 years as a volunteer. I volunteered at an AIDS organization. I saw many grandmothers taking care of grandchildren because their adult children had died due to HIV/AIDS. Some of the grandchildren were also HIV positive. One grandmother was trying to raise her 13 year old grandson who was HIV positive and both were quite ill. They tried to take care of each other, but they didn't have the resources. Where will he go when she dies?

    I was told that Help Age International was the only organization in Addis Abeba looking after seniors. It broke my heart to see older people, often barefoot, begging for money to survive. There is no Old Age Pension in Ethiopia. The only pension I heard of was if you had served in the army. Wages are extremely low. There was only one "old age home" in Addis Abeba which may have house 25 to 30 people max.

  • Rona Miller (10 October 2010)

    All people, young and old should not starve.

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