Land forms, Climate and Economy
Click here for an interactive population density map (the darker the shade the higher the population size)

"The Amhara Region is located in the northwestern part of Ethiopia between 8°45' and 13°45' North latitude and 36° 20' and 40° 20' East longitude." [1] Its land area is estimates at about 170000 square kilometers. Amhara borders Tigray Region in the North, Afar in the East, Oromiya in the South, Benishangul-Gumiz in the Southwest and the country of Sudan in the west. 

Amhara is divided into 11 zones, and 140 Weredas (see map at the bottom of this page). There are about 3429 kebeles (the smallest administrative units) [1]. "Decision-making power has recently been decentralized to weredas and thus the woredas are responsible for all development activities in their areas." The 11 administrative zones are: North Gonder, South Gonder, West Gojjam, East Gojjam, Awie, Wag Hemra, North Wollo, South Wollo, Oromia, North Shewa and Bahir Dar City special zone. [1]

The historic Amhara region contains much of the highland plateaus above 1500 meters with rugged formations, gorges and valleys, as well as millions of settlements for Amhara villages surrounded by subsistence farms and grazing fields. In this region are located, the world-renowned Nile River and its source, Lake Tana, as well as historic sites including Gonder, and Lalibela. "Interspersed on the landscape are higher mountain ranges and cratered cones, the highest of which, at 4,620 meters, is Ras Dashen Terara northeast of Gonder... Millennia of erosion have produced steep valleys, in places 1,600 meters deep and several kilometers wide. In these valleys flow rapid streams unsuitable for navigation but possessing potential as sources of hydroelectric power and water for irrigation" [2]. 

A 2000 report by USAID paints a grim picture of life in most of Amhara, especially the Eastern half [3]. The land has been cultivated for millennia with no variations, or improvement in the farming techniques. The resulting environmental damage has contributed to the trend of deteriorating climate with frequent draughts, loss of crops and the resulting food shortage as well as periodic famines. 

"The Amhara region suffers from recurrent droughts and pest invasions. Of the 105 woredas in the region, forty-eight are drought-prone and chronically food-secure. There has been no single year since 1950 where there was no drought in the eastern part of the region. Famines have been recorded as far back as biblical times. On the other hand, much of the western half of the region has good soils and adequate rainfall and typically produce agricultural surpluses." [3]

"Cereals account for more that 80 percent of cultivated land and 85 percent of total crop production. The principal cereal crops in the Amhara region are teff, barley, wheat, maize, sorghum and finger millet. Pulses and oil crops are the other major categories of field crops. ... About 27.9 percent of the livestock in Ethiopia, 30.7 percent of the poultry, and 18.5 percent of the beehives are found in the Amhara region. Most of the region is on the highland plateau and is characterized by rugged mountains, hills, plateaus, valleys and gorges. Hence, the region has varied landscapes composed of steep fault escarpments and adjoining lowland plains in the east, nearly flat plateaus and mountains in the center, and eroded landforms in the north. Most of the western part is a flat plain extending into the Sudan lowlands. The topographical features represent diversified elevations ranging from 700 meters above sea level (m.a.s.l.) in the eastern edge to over 4600 m.a.s.l. in the northwest. Based on moisture availability and thermal zones, ten major ago-ecological zones and 18sub-zones have been identified in the region. A little over 50 percent of the total area of the region is considered potentially arable for agricultural production activities." [3]

The USAID estimated a population growth rate of 3% per year and a doubling time of 25 years. This is also true nationally. "This rapid population growth rate has led to severe land shortages and rapid natural resource degradation. In the Amhara region, 94 percent of households have insufficient land to meet their food needs. Rural households are compelled to clear and cultivate marginal lands on steep hillsides. Only one to three percent of the Amhara region remains forested...... Overgrazing further denudes the land of vegetative cover. Forage requirements are estimated to be 40 percent below needed levels to maintain the current livestock population"  "Much of the annual rainfall comes in short violent events of up to 100 mm/day. The exposure of denuded slope areas to this type of rainfall results in Ethiopia having one of the most serious soil degradation problems in the world. Annual rates of soil loss in the Amhara region in some steep lands and overgrazed slopes exceed 300 tons/ha/year, or 250 mm/year" [3]

Land degradation has been a major problem for several decades. Individual farmers as well as the three governments the country had  in the last half century considered resettlement the only safety valve, leading to the out-migration of several hundred Amhara farmers to other regions of the country. 
 Population Distribution

The CSA's total population estimate for the Amhara region for mid-2008 is 20,136,000 [3] with a fifty-fifty split between the sexes. Of these 2,408,000 (only 12%) are urban residents. The percentage of the urban population is below the national average. A wereda level analysis for the 105 Weredas in the Amhara region shows an uneven population distribution with the following Weredas as the ten most populous (see map at the bottom of this page for location of Weredas).  

                                    Source: [4]

Only one Wereda (Este) has a population of over 400,000. Nine Weredas have a population of 300,000 to 400,000. Thirteen have at least a quarter of a million people but less than 300,000.  Eighteen Weredas have a population of 200,000 to a quarter of a million. The great majority of Weredas (a total of 53) are in the 100,000 to 200,000 population category.  The remaining twelve Weredas have a population of less than 100,000. Woldya, Berehet and Debre Tabor have the smallest populations (less than 50,000).

A ranking on the basis of density (persons per square kilometers) produces a different rank order. A total of 23 rural weredas in Amhara have densities above two hundred (July 2008):

Source: [4]

The following 20 Weredas represent Weredas in Amhara with the lowest densities of less than 100 persons per square kilometer (July 2008):



Source: [4]

Ethiopian Demography and Health

3Amhara National Regional State Food Security Research Assessment Report, USAID, May 2000 
5.Ethiopia Demographic and Health Survey 2005 Central Statistical Agency, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia , RC Macro,
          Calverton, Maryland, USA, September 2006
Socioeconomic and Demographic Characteristics

The graph below shows the educational characteristics of Amhara men at the time of the 2005 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) [5]. Addis Ababa was added for comparison. The numbers and percentages don't point to a highly literate populace able to make informed choices about issues like family size, income generation, respect for women's rights, etc. For instance, Amhara men represent the highest proportion (13.4%) of men who feared that   contraception will make women promiscuous, and the second highest proportion (24%) of men who responded that their wives should get sterilized; not them. Nearly two-thirds of Amhara males are illiterate and less than a third have attended a primary school.

 Percentage of men in the Amhara region and in Addis Ababa by Educational attainment.


Source: [5]

Percentage of women in the Amhara region and in Addis Ababa by Educational attainment.

             Source: [5]

Amhara women compare much less favorably than men to the population in Addis Ababa. More than three-quarters are illiterate.  The proportion who have completed high school is a dismal 1.7 percent with clear implications for a number of demographic outcomes including births - use of contraceptives (only 16% are using), number of pregnancies, timing,  birth intervals, etc.,  and child survival - breast-feeding, immunization, hygiene, nutrition, supplementation, medical care, avoidance of harmful traditional practices, etc. The low level of education also has effects on migration probabilities, and definite impacts on types of economic opportunities available to Amhara women at places of destination. Moreover, over-fourths of Amhara women have no access to media - news papers, radio, or television - and are unable to benefit from national educational campaigns on health, immunization, and safe child-bearing and rearing practices. At 71% the proportion of Amhara men with no access to media is slightly lower than women.

Determinants of Fertility in Amhara region

There is evidence of a down turn in fertility among Amhara women as confirmed by the reported current fertility rate (TFR) of 5.1 in the 2005 DHS, one of the lowest recorded for the 11 regions of the country. Of the predominantly rural regions, only Gambella has a lower TFR (4.0).  The reported number of children ever born (CEB) of 7.0 for women aged 40-49 during the 2005 DHS attests to the recency of the fertility decline. There is evidence of a generational shift, as women in the 40-49 age group reporting an average of 7children ever born represent the "mother" generation of those just starting their reproductive years. The graph below shows the mechanisms involved in the fertility decline among Amhara women (Afar women are used as a comparative group).  

               Percent Distribution of Non-first Births Among Amhara and Afar Women in the Five Years Preceding
                                   the 2005 DHS Survey by Number of Months since Preceding Birth

Number of Months
Source: [5]

Amhara women are delaying child birth. Nearly three times as many Afar women than Amhara women "opted" to have another baby within the shortest interval (above) of 7 to 17 months, with an average interval of about 12 months.  Twice as many Afar than Amhara women "chose" to have another child within the 18-23 month interval after the birth of the previous child. In sum, while a third of Afar women had already gone on to have another child between intervals of  7 to 23 months only 14 percent did so among Amhara women. On the other hand, the percentage of Amhara women who waited the longer periods 36-47 months, 48-54 months, 55-59 months, and 60+ months, is consistently higher among Amhara women than Afar women.

Median Age at First Birth Among Amhara Women Age 25-49 Years, by Current Age, 2005

Current  Age           Median age at 1st birth

Source: [5]

The graph above proves that the ongoing decline in fertility among Amhara women is primarily due to changes in  spacing of births, and has little to do with the timing of the start of childbearing which has not changed in recent years. The 2005 DHS interview responses from women currently in the 25-29, 30-34, 35-39 and 40-44 age groups shows an average age at the birth of the first child of 18.1, 18.3, 18, 18 and 18.1 years respectively proving the absence of significant changes in the starting age of childbearing among Amhara women. 

The direct (intermediate) determinants of fertility include marriage - age at marriage and the proportion of women married. Polygamy can also have some impact. At 22% Amhara men represent the second highest proportion of men by region who have more than one wife [5].

The relatively high age at the birth of the first child for Amhara women is not a reflection of a late age at marriage. In fact, Amhara women in any current age group have the lowest median age at marriage when compared to those in the other ten regions.

Median age at first marriage among Amhara and Oromiya women age 20 (25)-49,  
by current age (2005)

Current Age
Source: [4]

The graph above shows the median age at marriage (by current age) of respondents in the Amhara region during the 2005 DHS. Oromiya women have been added for comparison. Generally speaking, in a non-contracepting society, the earlier a woman marries, the higher her fertility outcome. In this context, the good news for those hoping for a fertility decline in Ethiopia is the observation of a higher median age at marriage for the youngest women (age 20 - 24) in the above graph, which is a full year above the median age at marriage for women currently 25 years old, or older. This is true both for women in Amhara and Oromiya. The main observation from the graph is, however, the consistently higher median age at marriage among women in Oromiya compared to women in the Amhara region. The difference is consistently between two and a half and three years. 

Median Age at First Sexual Intercourse Among Amhara, Afar, and Oromiya Women Age 20-49  
by Current Age (2005)

Current Age
Source: [5]

The patterns in the above graph are more or less identical to the one above it. This is expected given that the onset of sexual activity among women in rural Ethiopia invariably coincides with marriage. Amhara girls are married off very young, in part, to insure virginity at the time of marriage. 

Another direct (intermediate) determinant of fertility often studied in demography is the length of breast-feeding, and the resulting lactational amenorrhoea (inability to conceive). All of the regions are included in the graph below for comparative analysis. 

Median Number of Months of Postpartum Amenorrhoea,  Following Births in the 
Three Years Preceding the 2005 DHS Survey, by Region.

Source: [5]

At 20.8 months, Amhara women have the longest median length of lactational amenorroea followed by women in Tigray. The number for Amhara is possibly one of the major factors behind the relatively lower total fertility rate (TFR) in Amhara. 

Infant and Child Mortality Levels and Trends

Infant and child mortality have been on a decline in Amhara, and nationally. However, the Amhara region is still beset by high mortality regimes both among infants and older children, with rates higher than the national average (see figure below).

Neonatal, Postneonatal, Infant, Child, and Under-five Mortality Rates (per thousand births ) for
the 10-year Period Preceding the 2005 DHS Survey (Amhara, and national average)   

Source: [5]

The highest percentage difference in mortality rates between Amhara and the nation at large is among neonates where 18% more newborn infants die in Amhara than in the nation as a whole before reaching the age of one month. The second highest percentage difference is in child mortality (15.1%) followed by Infant mortality (14.8%) and post-neonatal mortality (14.3%). The reasons behind these survey outcomes are many, and likely to include lack of access to health care, low level of education, early marriage and child-bearing (teenage mothers are least likely to know a lot about infant care), economic circumstances, cultural traditions, and environmental factors which disproportionately impact infants and children in Amhara.  

A routinely cited factor in infant and child survival is the availability of, and access to, prenatal care. The 2005 DHS asked respondents in Amhara about the use or non use of this service. The result is shown in the next graph with  

Percentage Distribution of Women Who Had a Live Birth in the Five Years Preceding the 2005 DHS and
Received Antenatal Care (ANC)  During Pregnancy for the Most Recent Birth, by Region.

Source: [5]

Roughly a quarter of women in Amhara, Oromiya and Benishangul Gumuz received prenatal care. Only two regions - Afar and Somali - fared worse with Somali women registering a sigle-digit attendance rate. These are very low numbers even in comparison to rates in the other predominantly rural regions of Tigray Gambella and SNNP. The comparison with the predominantly urban regions of Addis Ababa, Dire Dawa, and Harari  casts Amhara in even worse light. Lack of prenatal care invariably leads to delivery in settings other than appropriately equipped health institutions. It is no wonder, then, that 96.3% of deliveries in Amhara take place at home.   The implications for the successful outcome of pregnancies (whether it is live or still birth), and the survival chances of infants are very clear.  

In the developed world, a child's survival chances from infancy to adolescence has seen dramatic improvements following advances in vaccinations against major childhood illnesses. Gradual adoption by health systems in the developing world has brought similar benefits to children in Africa but with varying degrees of success. Only a third of Ethiopian children have been fully vaccinated, which means a full two-thirds have no protection at all, or are only partially protected. At 29.8% the proportion in Amhara, of fully vaccinated infants and children is even lower.

Source: [4]
Urban Population

Amhara has a total of 169 urban centers with a population of 2000 or more. With a population of 213,000, Gonder is the most populous city. It is the only city in Amhara with a population of over 200,000. The table below shows the top nine urban centers by population size (July 2008):

Source: [4]

Two-thirds of the urban centers in Amhara have a population of less than 10,000, and more than a third have a population of less than 5,000. The following graph shows the number of urban centers in different size-classes (July, 2008):

Number of Urban Centers in Amhara by Size-Class of Towns (July 2008)

Source: [4]

Sex Ratio (males/females x 100) calculations can reveal the gender balance/imbalance in a population, and point to the nature of underlying migrant selectivity, as well as the push/pull forces involved in migrations from various origins to an urban center. The numbers for urban Amhara reveal a predominantly feminine (sex ratio below 100) population with ratios ranging from 74.5 in Shawra (Semen Gonder) and Kone (Semen Wello) to 127.8 in Metema Yohannes (Semen Gondar). The towns with the lowest and highest sex ratio are both in Semen Gondar. More than two-thirds of the urban centers (116 towns) in Amhara have a predominantly feminine (ratio below 100) population. The following table lists urban centers with the lowest and highest sex ratios. 

Source: [4]

   The table below shows the population sizes and sex ratios of all urban centers in Amhara.

Source: [6]
Persons per square kilometers
If you would like to help update this page, please send comments and/or data (as an e-mail attachment) to the author:
Dr. Aynalem Adugna
at Don't forget to indicate sources.
Appendix 1.