Quarries Extract Environmental Costs

The demand for quarry material like dimensional rocks, riprap, aggregates and other products to supply the construction of infrastructure projects, building sites and industry is growing rapidly in the capital. Quarry sites located in the outskirts and suburbs of Addis Abeba are feeding the demand for the material at the high cost of environmental degradation and socio-economic costs, writes DAWIT ASTATIKE, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER.

Dershaye Alemayehu, a 40-year labourer of a 20-strong workers association, works at the Hanna Mariyam quarry site in Nifas Silk, Lafto district between the city boundary and Sebeta town, in the Oromia region.

They are working on a quarry concession site allocated to Addis Abeba City Road Authority for cobblestone projects by the city administration.

Dershaye has been working for more than a decade extracting dimension stones for buildings and cobblestone projects.

Before he became an association member, he began working for farmers who owned the land and mined it illegally. At that time he earned 80 Br a day as a labour, which he considered a meager price.

The farmers were paid compensation for the land in 2014, the quarry was allocated to the Road Authority and Dershaye began supplying construction material for the Road Authority as part of the association.

“Our revenue increased, and we began to earn 1,500 Br a week,” Dershaye said. “The work provided us with enough income that we were able to start saving, which is very important for everyone.”

The project Dershaye worked on was part of World Bank-financed, labour-intensive cobblestone road projects to create job opportunities for unemployed youth.

Large infrastructure developments, public and private construction of buildings and the supply of raw material for various industrial applications consume large volumes of quarry material.

As Addis Abeba grows in size and population, the need for construction material is increasing.

As Addis Abeba grows in size and population, the need for construction material is increasing.

Stone quarrying is the multistage process by which rock is extracted from the ground and crushed to produce aggregate, which is then screened into the sizes required for immediate use, or for further processing, such as coating with bitumen to make bituminous macadam (bitmac) or asphalt, according to the website of NorthStone Material, a large quarry material producer in North Ireland.

Aside from supplying building material for the construction sector, quarries employ thousands of workers, equipment operators and truckers; as well as entrepreneurs engaged as artisans, tool suppliers and vendors in an extended supply chain.

Quarries are established randomly in an unplanned manner in rural or semi-rural areas, their locations remain in or close to urban areas in parallel with the expansion of residential areas and in proportion to the rate of urbanisation, according to a master’s degree thesis submitted to Addis Abeba University by Yayesh Mihiretie in 2017.

In the outskirts of the capital, there are several large quarry sites including in the Hanna Mariam area in the south, Bole Arebesa to the west and Entoto in the north.

The current price of dimensional stones extracted from these sites is sold at the cost of seven Birr for a single stone.

Schofield Stone, a major American quarry product producer, headquartered in New Jersey sells a truck-load of dimension stone, approximately 25tn, for 2,000 dollars, while a typical load from Hanna Mariam is priced for the staggeringly low price of 54 dollars for the same quantity.

This huge price discrepancy reflects the low value attached to quarry resources in the country.

Currently, many groups are operating in the Hanna Mariam quarry area without any permit or license from government bodies, according to daily labourers working in the area.

The quarries around the capital are established both legally and illegally. Unregulated quarries cause soil erosion, deformation of landforms, air and water pollution, ecosystem destruction, damage to natural water resources and removal of native vegetation and other resources, according to environmentalists and at least one thesis of a student for a master’s degree at Addis Abeba University.

The Addis Ababa City Environmental Protection Authority, which is responsible for licensing and supervising quarry sites in the city, has registered 460 quarry sites in the capital.

The numbers may not give an accurate figure because of gaps in the follow-up procedures, according to Alem Assefa, head of the Authority.

Quarry sites are allocated for extraction by the City Administration to youth workers associations and government institutions such as the city’s Water & Sewerage Authority, Housing Agency and Road Authority for construction and infrastructure development projects.

By far, the Road Authority receives the lion’s share of the production for its cobblestone projects.

The information obtained from different sources indicates that the Hanna Mariam quarry site was initiated without any resource management study, quarry operation plan, post project remediation or rehabilitation plans, land planning or community participation, writes Hailu Worku, Chair of Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction & City Development, Addis Abeba University, in his article “Environmental & Socio-economic Impacts of Cobblestone Quarries in Addis Abeba.”

World Bank funding for the project arrived as part of the Urban Local Government Development Project (ULGDP), which is intended to create economic and employment opportunities for local communities, particularly the youth.

The World Bank’s data from 2014 shows 111,965 job opportunities created in stone quarrying and cobblestone projects.

All projects funded by the Bank require screening and the preparation of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) document before implementation.

“For any quarry to be operational, environmental and social impact assessment plans should be conducted in advance,” Amare Bantider (PhD) environmental lecturer and researcher with over thirty years of experience at Addis Ababa University, told Fortune. “Environmental policy was ratified back in 1997, and it should be implemented.”

Its operators abandoned the Hanna Mariam quarry site after it was exhausted without implementing the required rehabilitation and left in severely degraded condition, as observed by Fortune.

The Hanna Mariam quarry site was observed abandoned by its operators after it was exhausted without implementing the required rehabilitation and left in severely degraded condition.

The site is now used for illegal dumping for construction debris brought in from parts of the city and for unlawful settlement causing discontent and quarrelers among the nearby inhabitants.

Another side effect and impact of unmanaged and unplanned quarry operations is the disorganised exploitation of quarries, which leads to wastage of essential resources both at the extraction and processing points and in the life of the quarry in the post-extraction period.

“This was a good fortune for me and many others to organise an association to do quarrying activity under the city administration projects,” says Amare Bekele, another operator who has been quarrying at the same site for over 15 years.

Feleke Tibebu is a site supervisor at another quarry site, Akaki-Bulbula, which uses crushing equipment to produce different size aggregates. The price of the product is 7,000 Br for 39tn. This compares with the price of crushed aggregates selling for an average price of 30,000 Br for the same quantity in the united state.

Workers of crushed aggregate complain of several factors, including noise and dust that affects their health. The nature of stone quarrying activities exposes workers to accidents and deaths.

Casualties such as landslides and light and severe injuries are common, which are usually addressed in an environmental document prepared for a quarry site.

Common practice around the country is that as soon as quarry operations become uneconomical, and a site has been extensively mined, the operators quickly abandon them without proper closure and rehabilitation.

The Addis Abeba Environmental Protection Authority does not conduct follow up monitoring of the operations once the license is issued, admits Alem.

There are laws of the country that require operators to restore the exhausted sites to a natural state by planting and grading. However, the laws are not implemented.

But what is observed on the ground is the gauged landscape, open pits and disfigured mountain slopes of abandoned sites. At Hanna Mariam, a group of youth use the abandoned quarry sites for dumping construction debris illegally. They charge 150 Br to 250 Br for a truckload.

The Environmental Authority plans to enforce the rehabilitation process after the current concessions expire, says Gutema Moreda, deputy head of the Authority.

Last week, Deputy Mayor Takele Umma announced the confiscation of quarry sites that will be distributed to youth associations organised under the micro job creation schemes.

Currently, many groups are operating in the Hanna Mariam quarry area without any permit or license from government bodies, according to daily labourers working in the area.

“We have no choice, we repeatedly visit government offices to organise under the micro schemes to extract dimensional stones legally,” Amare told Fortune, “but no one replied to us. But we have to make a living.”



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