The streets of Addis have been dug up, mostly in pedestrian areas, in order to install new electrical cable. However, the new construction is seriously inconveniencing pedestrians, forcing them to walk on the road instead of the safe sidewalks for pedestrians. The project is part of the city’s new electrification plans, which will replace older, and less efficient cables with updated ones. The trade off for city residents is the potentially dangerous streets now, and reliable electricity later, as MENNA ASRAT, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER, reports.
Rubble and dirt line the sidewalk on Churchill Avenue, near Lycee Guebremariam School, dividing the pedestrian sidewalk into two, intact and dug up. People walk off the sidewalk and into the main road to try and avoid the trench dug on the pavement.
Although the pavement is intact in places, the road is still the better option to walk on. People jostle with cars for space on the street. A notoriously busy road, there is never a shortage of cars either, rushing through small spaces or lined up waiting for the traffic lights to turn green.
Mesele Tenaw, a 34 year-old IT professional, frequently uses the street to commute to his place of work and his appointments.
“It’s really inconvenient,” he says. “You have to walk on the street, or on the far side of the digging. Then if you need to cross, you have to look for somewhere the digging is not too wide.”
This is a common sight around Addis Abeba. Although road projects and general constructions which hinder pedestrian traffic are not uncommon around the city, the new construction, which began some weeks ago, is causing more issues for pedestrians.
“I think it is worth it to have a reliable electricity supply although,” explains Mesele. “At least that way you don’t have to worry about losing power at bad times.”
The progress of the construction has been far from smooth. Near the National Theatre, a team mistakenly dug a trench for the cables on the wrong side of the street, forcing them to fill the hole and start again in the correct place.
The construction going on around Addis Abeba’s pedestrian walkways has inconvenienced many people including pedestrians and drivers. It is part of the government’s electrification program for the city: new electrical cables are being laid in order to replace the old cables.
The reason for the replacement links back to the country’s ever-expanding electrical capacity.
The current project, which will take place around the entire city, includes 72 switching stations, 461 transformers, and 1,038Km of new electrical lines. The lines will be both underground and overhead. The project hopes to address the issues of power outages, and spotty electrical coverage.
It will cost around 162 million dollars, which will be obtained in the form of a loan from the Chinese government.
“So far, about 17pc of the planned project has been completed,” said Aklilu Kebede, head of the Distribution Project Office of the Ethiopian Electric Utility. “While the project won’t necessarily expand coverage, it will address the issues of unreliable power supply and power outages.”
The total amount of electric power generated in last year was about 10.4 billion MWH, showing a 10pc annual increase from two years ago. Of that production, 92pc of the electricity was generated from hydropower, 7.5pc from wind and 0.1pc from thermal energy sources.
The government has planned to build a total of 14 hydropower projects by 2025. They will have a generation capacity of 11,100MW and will cost a total of 20.1 billion dollars.
Although energy projects seem to be at an all-time high, access to electricity has not corresponded. Although electricity access was planned to scale up to 75pc two years ago, it only reached 55pc. The aim is to reach 99pc coverage in three years.
In December 2016, the Gibe III Hydroelectric Power project was officially inaugurated by Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, the culmination of years of planning and construction. It is currently the dam with the largest electricity production capacity in the country.
Gibe is not the only major Ethiopian energy project in the works. Another significant part of the government’s energy plans is the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), being built on the Nile River. When it is completed, it will have an installed capacity of 6000MW. The project has reached 52pc completion as of June 2016. The Dam was supposed to be completed in 2017.
Construction on the Dam started in 2007 and it became partially functional in August 2016, with eight out of 10 turbines starting to generate electricity.
However, while the future capacities of the cables are a great prospect for the city’s residents, the way that they are being installed is proving to be more than a minor inconvenience.
“The roads are so dangerous, especially at night,” says Mohammed Ali, a taxi driver based in the area known as Mexico. “People are forced to walk on the road, even in areas where there aren’t sufficient streetlights. If people have been drinking, it will lead to accidents and deaths.”
But some people are more optimistic about the construction.
“If you walk carefully and watch where you are going there is no danger,” said one Addis resident. “It is not new when you live in Addis, and it is contributing to a better infrastructure for our city. So it doesn’t bother me.”
Road safety has always been at the forefront of the concerns of the city. Out of 114Km of road networks in Addis Abeba, only 14pc are safe for pedestrians, according to a road safety status report released on March 9, 2017.
The report, which was produced jointly by John Hopkins University, the International Road Assessment Program (IRAP), and Addis Abeba Police Commission states that last year the country lost 1.3 million dollars as a result of traffic accidents.
Last year, 463 people were killed in traffic accidents. Out of the victims, 80pc, were pedestrians, a phenomenon described by Diriba Kuma, mayor of Addis Abeba, as a ‘public health crisis.’ In Kenya, traffic accidents account for the death of 19 out of 100,000 people. Around 3,400 people a day die in road accidents around the world, according to the WHO.
While there have been no indications that the laying of the new electrical cables is responsible for any increase in the number of road and traffic accidents, people are becoming concerned.
“Of course, we will manage around it,” laughs Ermias Bekele, who works in a bar around Adwa Bridge, near the Meles Zenawi Foundation. “We always have to when we live in this city. But I have seen some of my customers not coming in as much because they are afraid they might fall down late at night.”
However, the Ethiopian Electric Utility (EEU) is not the only institution that is carrying out digging on the roads. Ethio telecom, the state communications giant, as well as the Addis Abeba Water & Sewerage Authority are also engaged in improving their infrastructures, which requires digging up portions of roads in the City.
“The project involves water lines as well as sewerage lines,” says a representative from the Addis Abeba Water & Sewerage Authority. “Old metal pipes are being replaced by plastic ones, and we are working to address water pollution and clean water accessibility.”
While the improvements around the city are inconvenient for the residents, many of them are looking past the inconvenience and to the improvements promised.
“Having reliable electricity will make things much easier,” says Nardos Shiferaw, 20. Her friend Netsanet Belay agrees. “It’s bothersome now, but I think that when everything is finished the city will be much better.”
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