The Inescapable Chaos of Addis

Yehabeshawork Ali is one of the residents in an apartment building around Semit Safari area, north of Addis Abeba. She had been a civil servant for over 45 years.

Now, at the age of 75, all that she wants is a quiet and peaceful place where she can take enough rest, meditate when necessary, and spend quality time with her family. But, this has been a far cry for Yehabeshawork for quite a while.

Despite the fact that the apartment she lives in is a place designed to be a residential area that included only gyms and stores, there is a bar and restaurant right in front of her home. And this is making life for her and her neighbours a living hell.

The restaurant transforms into a nightclub after the sun sets and pumps thunderous music to the neighbourhood, forcing the residents to have sleepless nights.

This is a reality for quite a number of residential sites in Addis Abeba. Lideta and Jemo condominium sites and Bole Chechnya is among the areas that people frequently complain about sound pollution, according to Lemesa Gudeta, Environmental Awareness and Pollution Control Team Coordinator at Addis Ababa Environmental Protection Agency.

It is not surprising to see nightclubs mingled with residential houses and blaring music throughout the night without any fear of legal consequences or a feeling of guilty consciousness.

“As if the nights are not enough, it goes on up to four o’clock in the morning at times,” says Yehabeshawork. She has also been frequently disturbed not only by the loud music which is unbearable, but also by the commotion that usually follows when intoxicated club goers start fleeing out – shouting, fighting, and setting off car alarms.

A home is supposed to be a haven. It is a place where one goes to leave their day behind, and get away from the hustle and bustle of the city to refresh and spend some time with loved ones. Yehabeshawork’s neighbour, who asked for anonymity, a mother of two toddlers who lives in the same apartment, claims that getting her kids to sleep is a daily challenge and has to struggle to go to bed herself against the pounding sound that comes from a club straight to her bedroom.

Most of the businesses which turn the peaceful nights of the residents of Addis Abeba into nightmares have trade names under the license category of bars and restaurants, Lemesa said. The Addis Ababa City Administration Trade Bureau grants licenses without undertaking any effort to confirm whether these businesses’ locations are suitable for living areas, Lemesa added.

The other place where the problem of sound pollution knocked at its doors is Lideta Condominium site in Lideta District, Woreda 08. Behailu Kebede, a board chairman of Lideta Kokeb Cooperative Association and a resident at the condominium claims that he has made several attempts to solve the long-standing problem of noise around the area.

He has complained in written letters at the District and the City Administration’s Trade Bureau levels to consult his association before granting licenses to restaurant and bar businesses at the condominium building. Nonetheless, all of his efforts were futile.

“The contractual agreement between the government and bidders who buy business places at condominium sites entails, among others, that the business organisation should avoid any act that disturbs the residents or else would face a shutdown,” Behailu told Fortune.

What Behailu knows is that transgressing such an agreement should have brought the nightclub owners to justice or the closure of their businesses. “These particular cases seem to be compromised by the law enforcement bodies,” he complained about the inaction of the public office.

It is not that the city does not have law enforcement offices. There are many of them indeed. Environmental Protection Division offices which are responsible for regulating environmental issues including sound or noise pollution are instituted in every District. If cases are beyond the regulatory capacity of the divisions at a district level, there is still the Addis Ababa Environmental Protection Agency to take care of them.

In fact, the divisions attempt to address the concerns, even though they mostly are ineffective. For instance, the environmental protection investigators from the Lideta District had been dispersed to the condo site in their district to measure the noise emission from the business houses. But they were not successful as the business owners muted the music when they got a tip that they will be investigated.

“But the random investigations did not come up empty-handed,” says Behailu. Two business places called Elyna and Change Bar that were caught off guard while playing music at a tone beyond permissible got shut. But they were reopened after a month and picked up where they left off without any improvements whatsoever, Behailu recalls.

Currently, there are at least four nightclubs in Lideta Condo site, working every night and up until the early hours of the morning with loud music and commotions as usual, similar to that of the situation around Summit area. There was even an incident of intoxicated club goers who went into shooting live bullets at each other one night at Change Bar, one of the nightclubs in the area, according to Behailu.

Unlike the situation in Lideta, there is only one single nightclub, Birader Bar & Restaurant, wreaking havoc in Summit residential apartment. Despite the unanimous grievances from the residents, the owner of Birader claims that he knew of no such complaints.

“No one from the residents of this apartment ever came to me with such an issue,” he told Fortune. He had heard a complaint only once from a residential block at the back of his bar, and after he changed the speakers, the complaints never came to him again.

He urges people to understand the nature of his business, but he also claims the sound is contained inside the club.

Another troublesome area when it comes to noise, disturbance and sleepless residents is the area informally known as Chechenya, located in the Bole district around Atlas Hotel. There is possibly the worst noise pollution around this area, as the number of nightclubs is almost innumerable. It is just behind these uncountable number of night clubs that residents live bearing the noise of the music and the turmoil.

The clubs are penetrating further into living areas since more and more buildings are being constructed and the clubs are forced to dislocate from their previous addresses, according to an anonymous resident. And this makes the disturbing noise multiple times worse.

The Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change has set up a standard by which investigators measure the noise emitted from business areas and determine whether or not it is polluting. This standard has the general requirement set forth by the World Health Organization (WHO) as its basis.

The limit of noise allowed to be emitted from industrial areas should not be more than 75 decibels during the day and 70 decibels during nighttime, whereas for commercial areas like Merkato, sound up to 65 decibels is permitted for the day time and 55 decibels at night, according to the standard. For residential areas, on the other hand, the highest amount of sound emission is 55 decibels for the day and 45 at night.

Furthermore, the Environmental Pollution Control Proclamation provides the right for the appropriate authority to come up with standards for the level of noise providing for the maximum allowable noise. This provision shows that what lacks is not the law to solve the issue of noise pollution, rather it shows the implementation and enforcement of the law is poor.

Like any other pollution, noise emitted from business areas has created a negative externality that the businesses make a profit without actually having to pay for it, according to Haileselassie Medhin (PhD), director of Environment & Climate Research Center (ECRC) of the Ethiopian Development Research Institute (ERDI).

The noise emitted from bars and night clubs enables them to generate profit without costing them anything while the neighbours have to bear the unpleasantness, he added.

“Whoever has to pay for another person’s business profits should get compensated,” he argued.

Unwanted and disturbing sound causes much more than a little inconvenience or annoyance, according to WHO. It is a health hazard that leads to hearing impairments, bad hormonal responses, particularly of stress hormones and outrageous conducts like aggressiveness.

The constitution provides for every person’s right to a clean and healthy environment. Thus considering WHO’s assertion, a healthy environment could only mean one that is free of sound pollution which could only lead to the conclusion that the residential area bar businesses are operating in violation of the constitution.

“I am frequently suffering from migraines,” Yehabeshawork said. “There are barely mornings I wake up feeling refreshed or rested; I always wake up with an intense headache.”






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