Responses to Homelessness and its Impacts in Ethiopia

Housing forms an indispensable part of ensuring human dignity since it is essential for health, privacy and personal space, security and protection from inclement weather, and social space.  In this context, “adequate housing” en­compasses more than just the four walls of a room and a roof over one’s head.  However, population growth, migration to urban areas, conflicting needs for existing land, and insufficient financial and natural resources have resulted in widespread homelessness and habitation in inadequate housing. In every country children, men and women sleep on sidewalks, under bridges, in cars, subway stations, and public parks, live in ghettos and slums, or "squat" in buildings other people have abandoned. The United Nations estimates that there are over 100 million homeless people and over 1 billion people worldwide inadequately housed.

In Ethiopia, these problems are felt broadly and in depth throughout urban centers across the country due to various reasons. One major cause is the irregular pattern of urban growth leading to the emergence of slums’ and homelessness. This is especially true for the situation in Addis Ababa where housing is a serious problem in terms of availability and quality. According to one study,

-        75% of the total population of the city is living in overcrowded houses or dilapidated structures, under unhygienic conditions, lacking basic urban services like safe drinking water and sewage, and in sprawling informal settlements with growing number of shacks.

-        85% of the housing structures in Addis Ababa are dilapidated and would have to be demolished or rehabilitated in a costly manner. They are in their major without the minimum basic infrastructure such as flushing toilets and connection to the sewer system.

-        An estimated 80% of the 150,000 kebele houses have serious problems of maintenance and are in a very bad shape. Up to 50% of the population is without fixed employment.

-        The accumulated housing backlog is estimated to be 300,000 units. Moreover, 60,000 units are needed to accommodate the population increase of 7-8% p.a. mainly as a result of migration from rural areas.

Many other urban areas such as Gondor; Dire Dawa and Harar; Mekelle, Adigrat, Shire Endasillasie, Maichew and Humera; and Ambo also have similar housing problems.

2.    Responses to Homelessness and its Impacts in Ethiopia

2.1.     Ratification of International and Regional Human Rights Instruments

Ethiopia is a signatory to the UDHR and has ratified the major international and regional human rights instruments including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the African Charter on Human and peoples’ Rights.

Table 1: Major Human Rights Instruments Ratified by the Government of Ethiopia


Date Ratified

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

June 11, 1993

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

June 11, 1993

International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination

June 23, 1976

Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment

March 14, 1994

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women

September 10, 1981

Convention on the Rights of the Child

May 14, 1991

African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights

June 2, 1998

These instruments set down international standard for the protection and promotion of human rights, including the right to adequate housing. (See previous chapter)

2.2.    Constitutional Recognition of the Right to Adequate Housing

The 1995 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia has an in-built mechanism of incorporating international laws as it has provisions which makes all international agreements ratified by Ethiopia part of the law of the land. Article 13/2 of the constitution has a specific provision for international human rights instruments such as the UNCRC, UNDHR, ICCPR, and ICESER which also provide standards for the interpretation of the Constitution in matters related to fundamental human rights. Ethiopia is also a party to the ICESCR that contains explicit provision for the right to adequate housing. According to the Constitution this international human rights instrument is part of the law of the land. Hence the rights contained in the Convention constitute the legal framework for the right to housing.

The Constitution provides for the right to property including immovable property on land. Although the Constitution does not contain an explicit article guaranteeing the right to housing, it contains provisions under which the right is included. The Constitution states that the state has the obligation to allocate increasing resources to give to the public social services including education and health. It is no doubt that the right to housing falls under this open ended provision. Moreover, the Constitution, under the social objectives set to be followed by the government, demands the framing of policies, as far as resources allow, including the provision of access to housing, among other social services, for all.

Article 41(3) states that every Ethiopian national has the right to equal access to publicly funded social services while article 41(4) imposes obligation on the state to allocate its ever increasing resources to provide to the public social services. Similarly, article 41(5) of the Constitution imposes duty on the state, within the available means, to allocate resources to provide assistance to the physically and mentally disabled, the aged and the children who are left without parents or guardians. Further, article 90(1) mentions housing as one of the guiding policy principles. So, under article 41(3) and (4), the publicly funded social services to which all Ethiopian nationals have the right to equal access and which the government is obligated to provide can be interpreted to include housing services. Under article 41(5), the term assistance can be interpreted to include housing provisions if the category of people mentioned are in need of them. Under article 90(1), housing itself is expressly mentioned. Hence, the issue of housing is apparently covered by these provisions.

2.3.    Legislative Measures

Ethiopia does not yet have specific legislation dealing with the right to adequate housing. However, there are some laws which have a bearing on the enjoyment of the right to housing. One such legislation is the Condominium Proclamation enacted in 2003. This Proclamation was designed ‘to implement other alternatives of urban land use in addition to plot basis urban land use to narrow the imbalance between the demand for and supply of housing’ and the creation of favourable conditions, for private developers and co-operatives, to contribute towards the development of condominium houses for sale or lease.

The other legislative measure that can be mentioned as having indirect pertinence to the right to housing is the Appropriation of Land for Government works and Payment of Compensation for Property Proclamation (Appropriation Proclamation). This Proclamation is designed to improve the procedures by which government can appropriate land to carry out developmental works in the interest of the public, and the procedures for the valuation of property to be affected by appropriation of land to compensate the owners thereof. This is particularly important because, unlike the Condominium Proclamation, the scope of application of the Appropriation Proclamation is not limited territorially. It can apply to all parts of the country particularly the rural areas where many people possess land and land is usually appropriated for developmental activities thereby affecting their shelter or houses.

2.4.    Non-Legislative Measures

The government has taken non-legislative measures towards addressing the problem of housing prevalent in the country, especially in urban areas. Among the initiatives taken are the construction of condominiums and their distribution to lower income groups. This project, which has been initially confined to major towns, has been expanded in coverage to all urban areas countrywide. For instance, in Gondar, a city where the middle and lower class of the society face housing problems, the construction of condominium houses for about 3000 households every year is planned. In Mekelle and other urban areas, thousands of low-cost condominium houses are to be constructed to address the problem of housing in the coming four years. In Ambo, condominium houses are being constructed and the construction is being speeded up to alleviate the housing problem in the town. Further, the government is planning to construct many low-cost condominiums houses in other urban areas such as Harar. In order to promote the construction of houses, the government provides credit facilities for those who form cooperatives to build condominiums. Other activities include the licensing of private housing providers (real-estate investors) to engage in and contribute to the construction of houses and the reduction of bank interest rates on housing loans.

3.    General Recommendations

The national response to homelessness should be considered at two levels: measures to address housing needs for the poor in the context of the right to adequate housing; and, measures to realize the rights of persons vulnerable to and/or affected by homelessness.

1.Measures to address housing needs for the poor in the context of the right to adequate housing:

1.1.   Regular reporting status of treaty implementation to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

1.2.  Enactment and implementation of legislation on right to adequate housing (which includes for example regularization of tenancy, forbidding discrimination in the housing sector, supporting housing sector by tax reliefs, subsidies for low-income households etc …)

1.3.  Development and implementation of a national housing policy statement/strategy for the progressive implementation of measures for the right to adequate housing

2.Measures to realize the rights of persons vulnerable to and/or affected by homelessness:

2.1.  Developing and implementing a legislative and policy framework for the protection and promotion of the rights of persons vulnerable to and/or affected by homelessness

2.1.1.    Enactment and implementation of legislation on security of tenure, equal inheritance, protection against forced eviction, equal right of women and men to housing

2.1.2.   Development and implementation of strategic document (national plan of action) based on a comprehensive, systematic approach to addressing the different facets of homelessness through a participatory process.

2.2. Designing and implementing prevention and early intervention programs to reduce vulnerability to homelessness

2.3. Designing and implementing prevention and early intervention programs aimed at improving and expanding services for the homeless

2.4. Designing and implementing prevention and early intervention programs for the rehabilitation and reintegration of homeless persons into mainstream society



This is an excerpt from a desk review report intended for the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, though it never was officially submitted to the Commission. The full text of the (draft) report could be downloaded here

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Wednesday, 06 December 2023