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Destitution in Wollo (Ethiopia): chronic poverty as a crisis of household and community livelihoods


  • Kay Sharp
  • Stephen Devereux


Conventional approaches to poverty assessment are dominated by narrow measures of current household income, expenditure and consumption. These methodologies fail to capture more complex, multi- dimensional and dynamic realities of chronic poverty, such as asset erosion and livelihood vulnerability. This paper proposes an alternative measure of severe poverty or destitution, defined in terms of subsistence needs, livelihood resources and dependence on transfers. Fieldwork from northern Ethiopia confirms the resonance of this holistic approach with local perceptions. Destitute households in Wollo face constrained access to land, labour, livestock, social networks and transfers, and are more vulnerable to erratic weather and other shocks. The crisis of livelihoods affects whole communities: better-off households are no longer able to assist the poorest, and the majority of households are themselves at risk of destitution. This paper concludes that a broad range of policy interventions is needed to address both the household and community levels of chronic poverty.

Suggested Citation

  • Kay Sharp & Stephen Devereux, 2004. "Destitution in Wollo (Ethiopia): chronic poverty as a crisis of household and community livelihoods," Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 5(2), pages 227-247.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:jhudca:v:5:y:2004:i:2:p:227-247 DOI: 10.1080/1464988042000225140

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. MacKellar, Landis & Woergoetter, Andreas & Woerz, Julia, 2000. "Economic Development Problems of Landlocked Countries," Transition Economics Series 14, Institute for Advanced Studies.
    2. Canning, David, 1998. "A database of world infrastructure stocks, 1950-95," Policy Research Working Paper Series 1929, The World Bank.
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    Cited by:

    1. Sharp, Kay, 2007. "Squaring the "Q"s? Methodological Reflections on a Study of Destitution in Ethiopia," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 35(2), pages 264-280, February.
    2. Little, Peter D., 2008. "Food Aid Dependency in Northeastern Ethiopia: Myth or Reality?," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 36(5), pages 860-874, May.
    3. Shaffer, Paul, 2013. "Ten Years of “Q-Squared”: Implications for Understanding and Explaining Poverty," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 45(C), pages 269-285.


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