The capital has recently witnessed one of the worst floods that took the life of one and left hundreds homeless. Victims were moved to temporary shelters while others still struggle to find a suitable place to live in. Some blame the lack of sufficient measures to prepare and protect the citizens from such calamities, while others hold the poor road infrastructures responsible. Nevertheless, the state is taking action to tackle the problem and brace itself for future catastrophes, reports BERHANE HAILEMARIAM, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER.
On September 7, 2017, three days before the Ethiopian New Year, the prolonged heavy rains in the capital city made Jaja River, located in Nefas Silk District, flow over the rim of the masonry wall constructed to deter floods.
Even though the neighbourhood has always been prone to flood, the recent overflow is unique from its predecessors. Just minutes after the rain stopped, a sudden cracking noise was heard, followed by floods that gushed into nearby houses. Genet Abera, a mother of one, was also a victim.
“It was tragic and unforeseen,” said Genet, whose husband was taken away by the flood.
Genet and her husband, Ayele Worku, a daily labourer, lived in one of the two blocks of dilapidated houses, each accommodating 15 households, designed as a living quarter for priests serving at St. Marys Church. They paid a monthly rent of 600 Br.
Unlike other days, Ayele was not far from home when he received a call from his wife who sought her husband’s protection during the flood.
“I was scared to death when the flood waters covered us and our property. Then, I called him,” Genet explained sadly.
Ayele did not waste minutes to arrive in his locality, breathless. To his surprise, he saw his neighbours gathering together, sobbing and shouting at the nearest place where the flood did not reach. They were carrying children and some of their belongings.
“As soon as he arrived, he started helping the men to stack sand-filled sacks to block the water,” Genet told Fortune sobbing.
Tsadikan Wubet, one of the 230 survivors of the flood that took the life of her neighbour, Ayele Teklu, standing outside her home, recounting the dreadful incident at her place located around Biheretsige park, Nifas silk lafto District.
In the midst of the rush to stop the flooding, what happened to her spouse was a complete dismay of her expectation.
“No one was sure what happened to him, but somebody cried and told us that the flood took him,” Genet said.
On top of the sudden incident and grief, his remains are still not found. His wife, relatives and friends have searched the bushes around the river away from their homes, reported in hospitals and have registered his identification and picture at police stations, but to no avail.
After the incident, friends and relatives of her late husband contributed some money and rented a one-room house located nearby for them, costing them 1,000 Br.
“I do not know how long I will stay here; I cannot afford to pay such amount of money,” she said, “I do not have any income.”
Heavy rains continued drenching the neighbourhood repeatedly from September 15 to 20, 2017, but no such incidents were reported.
The 230 survivors of the flood have already been moved to a neighbouring elementary school named Abiyot Fana, as a temporary shelter arranged by the wereda and district offices.
Not only Genet and her neighbours but for many of the city’s residents living along riversides, this was one of the hardest moments of their life costing them their belongings and loved ones in a matter of seconds
Properties and homes of residents around Abiyot Qirs Preparatory School, Lancia, Wereda 04, damaged due to the downpour on September 30, 2017
During the past three months, the city has recorded dozens of flood accidents resulting in a damage of 20 million Br and has even claimed the life of an individual. It was two times high compared to the same period last year.
According to the Addis Abeba Fire & Emergency Prevention & Rescue Authority (AAFEPRA), out of the 44 flood cases during the recently concluded summer season (Kiremt), 32 have occurred in September alone. The highest flood cases were registered at Kolfe Keranyo, Bole and Addis Ketema districts with 12, nine and eight accidents, respectively.
“Such accidents have not occurred in half a century,” said Debela Biru deputy head of the Addis Abeba Rivers & Riverside Development Project Office. “The causality occurred despite the efforts of our office to take preventive measures before the incident.”
Founded two years ago with the purpose of developing and revitalising rivers, the project office has studied and selected 37 high flood risk areas in the city, of which 24 are along riversides, and the remaining are located near clogged sewers.
In Aqaqi Qality district alone, the flood caused the relocation of 400 people from their houses to temporary sheds. Needless to say, it has also become a cause of distress and disappointment for many residents living in the capital including the 60-year old Kidane Woldemariam.
Working in a garage, Kidane lives with his wife and daughter in a nine-square-metre rented house, paying 800 Br monthly.
“I am always terrified as the rainy season approaches,” he said. I am alert and keep my ears open when it rains during the night.”
The flood affected his daughter who lost all her certificates and credentials in the flood.
“She is terrified and always asks us to relocate,” said Assefash Mekonnen, Kidane’s spouse, with teary eyes, “But, we cannot fulfil her wish as we don’t have the income to do so.”
The project office attributed the flood to the development of infrastructure in the city as the existing drainage system along roads has prevented the water to sink down into the earth, resulting in the flooding of streets with rainwater during the rainy season.
Poor design of the sewerage system and climate change are also attributed for the flood, as the assessment of the office indicates.
Ahmedin Abdulkerim, public relations & communications director at the National Meteorology Agency, begs to differ.
“From a meteorological point of view, it was average rainfall between 76.6mm and 185.4mm, and is not capable of instigating floods,” he said. “Rather, the main cause is the absence of preventive actions such as relocating people from flood-prone areas before the accident.”
To tackle such catastrophes and damages, the Project office has hired Addis Abeba University Centre for Environmental Science Studies to undertake a study with a cost of 34 million Br. Seven months ago, the University handed over the study to the Office.
Direct discharge of waste from households and erosion of the river banks are the primary causes of floods in the capital, as the research pointed out.
However, as Mekuria Argaw (PhD), an environmental science expert with over two decades of experience, indicates, the major problem lies in the topography of the city.
“Since the topography of the capital is slopy, many trees have to be planted in high altitude areas. So, the rain is not going to overflow into low land areas of the capital.”