Addis Abeba's streets and neighbourhoods have, yet again, been invaded by heaps of rubbish, trash bins filled to the brim, and the grisly, lingering stench emanating from them. Passers-by hold their breaths and those responsible for managing the city's waste try to camouflage their culpability behind corruption controversies sweeping the nation. The municipality expends millions to keep the city clean. Hence, there must be other underlying problems causing the mess. SAMSON BERHANE and YIBELTAL GEBREGZABHER, FORTUNE STAFF WRITERS, probe further into the matter.
Strangely, activities at the half-century-old landfill- Reppi a.k.a Qoshe- were at a standstill for the past two weeks. Individuals and workers assigned by the City’s Administration to handle the garbage that moves in and out of the landfill were hardly noticeable, as opposed to the trend previously observed.
Located in Kolfe Qeranyo District, with around 8,500 metric cubes of waste dumped daily, the 37ha landfill, for the first time since its reopening in July 2016, saw no disposal and was inactive. Over the past two weeks, the landfill received the lowest quantity of waste in a year- below 3,000 tonnes a day.
More than 10 bulldozers and tractors meant to sort the city’s garbage out in the landfill were not carrying out their usual tasks. The problem was not because of the absence of operators, rather, it was the depletion of fuel to run the tractors.
“There was no fuel to execute the usual activities of waste disposal,” said Habtom Abraha, a supervisor at Addis Abeba Solid Waste Recycling & Disposal Project Office. “There were days when we had to bring trailers and loaders from other government institutions to continue operations.”
But their attempts did not last for long.
Since the beginning of this month, the problem worsened, resulting in the trash cans and bins overflowing with spoiled eggs, rotten fruit, crumbled papers and many other wastes.
“As there are no tractors or bulldozers to distribute and arrange the trash, we are forced to stop operation partially,” said Habtom.
In the capital, where the population grows by 2.5pc annually, local households and institutions generate 94pc of the city’s garbage, while the remaining comes from the streets. Every individual in the capital produces 2.1 cubic metres of trash daily. This is expected to reach seven cubic metres in the next three years, as the Project Office data indicates.
For many of the city’s residents, repeated failure of the government to collect garbage timely demonstrates that Addis Abeba is unable to cope with its solid waste. A walk along many of the streets or villages is proof that the city is choking on its garbage.
Pedestrians have to pass through sidewalks and streets laden with repulsive trash while cursing the City’s Administration or holding their noses just like the 58-year old Awol Jemal.
“It is disgusting,” said Awol, while walking along Debrezeit Road near Astara Hotel from his workplace to home. “My neighbours and children got sick due to the piled-up trash.”
The situation is no different in other parts of the city, where piles of garbage remain uncollected for almost two weeks, emitting a foul smell and bringing disappointment over the waste management system of the municipality- which spends millions of Birr on collection, transportation and disposal of solid waste.
“It is a failure of the management,” said Yirgalem Berhane, head of Addis Abeba Solid Waste Management Agency- an entity whose mandate is to compile and transport the solid waste from 10 districts of the capital to Reppi.
The recent crisis is not only distressing people who work at the landfill but also the cooperatives engaged in the collection from many parts of the city including the members of Tsidat Eniwek Cooperative Union.
“We don’t know what happened to the compactors,” said Allene Mergia, member of Tsidat Eniwek Cooperative Union. “This affects our livelihoods as our income depends on the amount of garbage we collect.”
The city’s administration, in the past fiscal year, enabled 1,000 unions like Tsidate Eniwek to earn 36 million Br by allowing them to recycle the waste collected from households, institutions and factories.
It is not the first time that the Municipality has failed to handle the city’s waste.
A year ago, its move to relocate the landfill to Sendafa ended in turmoil after the farmers living there refused to allow the city‘s administration to provide waste management services in the area. It was a significant setback for the city’s administration that handles the waste of 3.5 million residents of the capital.
Again, by the beginning of this year, the Municipality’s attempt to transform, streamline and automate the waste management system has resulted in a stack of waste in residences, businesses and institutions.
Under the new system, compactor trucks will be deployed to collect and transfer garbage to the landfill, instead of the usual mechanism of transporting garbage from households and businesses to dumpsters and then to the landfill.
Nevertheless, the dissatisfaction of the city’s residents did not persist for long as the Municipality managed to deploy 44 compactors in the capital, collecting 720 million kilograms of waste since the inception of the new system.
The success, however, was short-lived.
Last week, just after the arrest of the Head of the Project Office- assigned to manage the waste disposal at the landfill, in relation to the recent corruption probe, the garbage reappeared in many parts of the capital.
Officials administering the Finance department were also taken in for the same reason. This coincided with the exhaustion of the monthly budget allocated to buy fuel for the tractors.
“After the arrests, the post was vacant, and no one signed the cheque to buy fuel for the tractors,” said Habtom.
Lidetu Ayalew, an opposition party leader and high-level committee member of Ethiopian Democratic Party, believes such problems occur when the management assigned to oversee the system is incapable of fulfilling its duties.
“Most of the management of such bodies are political appointees and have no background in waste management,” he said. “Experiences should be taken into account while assigning someone in these areas.”
Additionally, there was also a controversy over benefit packages for the Project Office employees in the landfill, leading them to strike against the management.
Endalkachew Abebe, an employee, working for the Office for four years, assigned to check the weight of the waste coming from various parts of the city, is amongst those who are dissatisfied with the management. He, along with 70 workers, have not received allowance payments for over four months.
“I don’t think they understand the essence of the allowance payment,” he said. “It is to rebuild our bodies damaged by the stench from the landfill,” he said.
Despite the gloomy pictures, the city’s administration chose to undertake its regular business by allocating funds to procure oil for the tractors, while employees are threatening for another strike, lest their problems are resolved.
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