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Rural Poverty and Disability in Ethiopia

Off the main streets in Gonder, Ethiopia, poverty becomes starker. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

PHILADELPHIA and NEW DELHI, Mar 13 2020 (IPS) - With about 109 million people, Ethiopia is the second most populous nation in Africa after Nigeria, and the fastest growing economy in the region. However, it is also one of the poorest, with a per capita income of $790.

About 80% of the Ethiopian population lives in rural areas, but these are increasingly migrating to urban areas due to a lack of job opportunities. However, with unemployment levels at 16.5%, the situation in urban areas offers even fewer possibilities of finding employment.

Poverty is predominantly a rural phenomenon in Ethiopia. While urban headcount poverty declined from 36.9 percent in 2000 to 14.8 percent in 2016, rural poverty only declined from 45.4 percent to 25.6 percent in the same period.

Unfortunately, the evidence on the role of health in reducing poverty is sparse. We, therefore, focus on rural disability as an impediment to promoting rural employment and reduction of rural poverty. Our analysis is based on the Ethiopia Socio-Economic Survey (ESS) covering 2011/12, 2013/14 and 2015/16. It is a nationally representative panel survey.

We sketch below (i) factors associated with rural disability in Ethiopia; (ii) factors associated with rural employment-especially the association between employment and disability; and (iii) association between rural poverty and disability and the underlying links.

Vani S. Kulkarni

In order to circumvent reverse causality, say, between disability and poverty, the former is for 2015-16 and the latter for 2011-12.

About 13.77 % of the rural Ethiopian population suffered from disabilities in 2015-16. About 63% suffered from a single disability while the rest from multiple disabilities (>1). The largest share was of the age-group, 31-50 years, followed by the older age-group,51-70 years. These two age-groups together accounted for over 70 % of those suffering from a single disability. The largest share of multiple disabilities was of 51-70 years, followed by the oldest (>70 years) and 31-50 years. The combined share of 31-50 years and 51-70 years was about 67 %. If we go by prevalence of disability by age-group, it was highest among the oldest, followed by 51-70 years. A similar pattern was observed for multiple disabilities except that the prevalence among the oldest was just under 50 %.

Disability by gender shows a frequently observed contrast. The shares of females in both single and multiple disabilities-over 52 %- was higher in 2015-16. However, differences between prevalences by gender were low, with slighly higher prevalences among females.

The highest share of those suffering from one disability was of those belonging to largest households(>6 members), followed by those in lower-sized households (between 3-5 members). The latter, however, accounted for the largest share of multiple disabilities, followed by largest households. Prevalences within single and multiple disabilities offered yet another contrast. The highest prevalence of single disability was observed among those living alone, followed by those living in households with just two members. This is replicated for multiple disabilities, with the higher prevalence than of single disability.

Rural employment by duration in 7 days was classified into ranges of hours worked: 0 hour, 1-25 hours, > 25 hours in 7 days, and disabilities into none, 1 and > 1. The former refer to 2015/16 while the latter refer to 2011/12.

The largest share of those working 1-25 hours was associated with those without any disability, followed by those suffering from a single disability and then a sharp drop in the share of those with multiple disabilities.A similar distribution was observed among those working longer hours, >25 hours, with the largest share of those without any disability and lowest of those with multiple disabilities. There was a low reduction in proportions of each disability group working 1-25 hours, with the highest among those without disability, followed by those with a single disability and then among those with multiple disabilities. A similar pattern was observed among disability groups in longer duration of employment, >25 hours. Thus it follows that single and multiple disabilities-especially the latter-were associated with restricted hours of employment, compared with those without any disability.

Raghav Gaiha

Considering part-time, casual and temporary employment, comparison between non-disabled and disabled shows that the proportion of disabled persons not-working was higher than that of the non-disabled, while those of working 1-25 hours and >25 hours were lower.

There are two issues in rural poverty analysis: one is its persistence, and second is movement into and out of it over time. Just under one-half of extremely poor in 2011/12 remained so during this period, a lower proportion of middle class remained in it, and more than half remained affluent. About 30 % of extremely poor in 2011/12 moved up into middle-class and a little under a quarter into affluent in 2015/16. From middle-class under 30 % descended into extreme poverty and about 33 % became affluent. From affluent, about 29 % decended into middle-class and a much smaller proportion became extremely poor. Hence high persistence of poverty coexisted with considerable upward economic mobility.

As a vast majority of the Ethiopian rural population did not suffer from any disability, it is not surprising that they constituted largest shares of extremely poor, middle class and affluent in 2015/16. Their proportion of extremely poor was lowest and of affluent highest. The proportion of disabled who were extremely poor was lowest but higher than among disabled, and higher in middle class and affluent but again lower than among non-disabled. Thus disability wass associated with greater vulnerability to extreme poverty and restricted prospects of being in middle class.

In conclusion, the challenge of reduction in poverty remains enormous while not paying due attention to preventing and eliminating disability is likely to make it much harder.

(Vani S. Kulkarni is Lecturer in Sociology, University of Pennsylvania, USA; and Raghav Gaiha is (Hon.) Professorial Research Fellow, Global Development Institute, University of Manchester, England, and Research Affiliate, Population Studies Centre, University of Pennsylvania, USA). The views are personal.

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