The beautiful 'New Flower' may have a stench. It comes from uncollected garbage which is being increasingly generated by Addis Abeba's growing population. As MISAK WORKNEH, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER discovers, a new tariff is not helping either consumers or providers of solid waste disposal services.
Addis Abeba had its name derived from the Amharic phrase Addis Abeba, literally meaning ‘New Flower’. But this proved a paradox when Forbes magazine released a ‘standard of living’ index worked out by Mercer Llc, which ranked Addis as the sixth dirtiest city in the world earning a grade of 38 out of 100 points, taking New York as the benchmark 100.
Media releases on the World Water Day marked last week, narrate another story. The case in point was the USAID WASH support announcement that read “… Ethiopia achieved the largest decrease in the proportion of its population practicing open defecation globally, a reduction more than five times greater than the regional average over the same period.
Neither numbers nor official release however, hid or buffered residents and service givers’ disappointment and official desperation to drastically improve the city’s solid waste disposal system. As wise men say, life it is not just a series of calculations and a sum total of statistics, it is about experience, it’s about participation, it is something more complex and more interesting than what is obvious.
“We used to have a clean compound where we would take our children out on sunny afternoons,” said a lady living in Gotera condominium low-cost apartments. “Things are rolling back in terms skip allocation and waste management in general,” she continued.
The condominium complex located off the Debre Zeit road is one of the city’s housing establishments inhabited by more than two thousand families.
Service providers also have their misgivings.
“It’s highly problematic,” Abdissa Solomon, founding member and general manager of the At’E Sanitation Service Cooperative Society.
His company has been in the solid waste disposal business for the last five years and he claims to face new challenges in service delivery. New locations and a new tariff have disturbed his feasibility study and he finds it difficult to adjust.
“The new dumping site at Sendafa is much farther away than the old one at Repi,” said Abdissa. “And with the cost of living going up wages and salaries are increasing too.”
Against this backdrop the new tariff policy of paying according to the weight of the collected garbage, has made it worse for At’I Sanitation.
“The price payment system is unfair,” complained Eden Melkie, co-owner of Dynamic Sanitation Services who has been operating in the business for the last 17 years.
She too was referring to the tariff policy change introduced in December 2015, when the city government’s Cleaning Management Agency shifted the charge for garbage collection by volume to paying per kilogram.
It used to be 90 Br per cubic metre and now one cubic metre is defined as 330kg.
“This calculation is not scientific,” Abdissa claimed. “Whoever decided this has no idea about the nature of the waste we collect.”
The private sector perspective is that the bigger share of the garbage collected from institutions is paper and plastic bottles which have high volume but not weight.
A study carried out by the Addis Abeba City Adminstration in 2010 indicated that paper, rubber and plastic take up only 2.5pc and 2.9pc of the total waste collected.
A preliminary study done by the Agency indicated a faulty trend in payment calculation. It concluded that some collectors bring a half full truck and demand payment for the full capacity of the truck. It therefore recommended the change that payment be calculated in absolute weight introducing a standard weight per cubic metre.
This measurement has created a bleeding business environment for the collectors.
They have lodged their reservation on the new system and showed their losses to the Mayor’s Office and the Agency’s head, Dawit Ayele.
“If the Agency or the Mayor’s Office do not respond to our pleadings on time, our business will shut down soon,” Eden lamented.
The letter voicing the commercial waste collectors’ complaints was signed by their association, a month ago. All 27 companies in the sector joined hands in challenging the change.
Officials in the Agency appreciate the complaint but still find the change introduced as inevitable.
“It is high time we change our course of carrying out duties from a decade-old system,“ said Mitiku Hirpa, research awareness officer at the Agency. “The city has changed in terms of population and waste generation and that needs adjustment from the old ways.”
Besides these episodic adjustments, the City Administration still operates as per its old solid waste management policy and runs on a meagre budget collected from the two per cent sanitary fee that residents pay along with their utility bills.
The Agency’s report for 2012, indicates that it collected in excess of 80 million Br from such charges, while dispensing more than 75 million Br in payment.
The Agency endowed with coordinating the waste management system set up its own map for the purpose. For cleaning and solid waste management purposes the city is divided into 550 zones, with a curving average of approximately 900 households. A number of small and micro enterprises (SME) has been deployed to serve these households.
With a total of 610 SMEs, each zone gets a little more than one enterprise, which has an average of just about 10 individual members. This system does not allow any commercial private waste collection companies to collect waste from households, limiting them to private and public institutions.
Eden and Abdissa find that this arrangement curtails the growth of their businesses. Their contribution to the total waste collected is limited to 18pc, while the biggest chunk, 76pc of the waste from households is reserved for SMEs.
“This is done to avoid unfair competition between private companies and SMEs involved in the task,” argued Hirpa in defense of the policy.
However, this protection has not stopped the SMEs from voicing their own misgivings about the system. Their complaints are deep into the mismatch between waste collection on a zonal basis as done a decade ago and the changes in reality.
The zonal system of classification employed by the Agency merely takes into consideration the number of families residing in a given area. Collectors assigned in such areas have been heard grumbling their disapproval.
“The zone curving did not cope up with horizontal growth of the city,” Abraham Mitiku, member of the SME, Dibora Garbage Collecting Service told Fortune. “Condominiums in particular are not well absorbed in the system.”
SMEs operate in such services four days a week from seven in the morning to three in the afternoon. Despite having six associations, each with a minimum membership of 10, most households remain unreached.
The tariff change which has affected the business flows of waste collection has made all the players uncomfortable and has created some anxiety among service providers.
People like Eden of Dynamic Waste Collector, a private company, are contemplating exit strategies from the business worth half a million birr investment.
“Had it not been for the duty free trucks imported, we would have been out of the business way back,” she said. “If we opt out we will be forced to pay the waived duty which we can’t afford at this moment.”
Despite the increasingly cracking participation of private companies and SMEs, the sector is faced with the huge challenge of increased waste generation.
According to latest data from the Agency, more than three million cubic metres of garbage is created in the city every year. Local households and institutions account for 76pc and 18pc of this respectively, while street sweeping makes up the remaining percentage. A little more than one million cubic metres of this is collected by the Agency’s 169 trucks. However, by the Agency’s estimation, progression of 2.1 cubic metres of of thrash production per person, the total amount of rubbish is expected to increase by an amount greater than seven million cubic metres every year
Public–Private partnership guides the principle behind solid waste management. Government’s capacity waste collection can cover only a little more than one million cubic metres of the total volume of garbage generated per annum.
In a seeming standoff, the Agency had opted to conduct its business as usual without any inclination towards price revision, while the companies are hinting that they may be inching towards a strike.
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