Green Never Hurt Anybody

Tuesday was almost literally a grey day. The morning hours, especially in many of Addis Abeba’s residential areas, saw skies covered in what at first may look like fog, but in reality was thick white smoke. It was a consequence of burnt refuse by residents who have taken to cleaning the city somewhat traditionally, just like their parents used to do it.

In fact, the tradition dates further back. Tuesday, a.k.a Hidar Sitaten, a kind of annual national cleaning day, began in the early 1990s.

The reason for this was a fatal pandemic, the Spanish Flu, which killed 5,000 to 10,000 Addis Abebans, according to Sino Biological, which researches and develops biological pharmaceuticals. Ethiopians knew the disease by the name Yehidar Beshita. As a precaution, they took to burning garbage, and corpses of the virus’ victims according to some legends.

Slowly, the deed came to take on a life of its own, becoming a sort of tradition, even in an age where such rubbish disposal methods are radical in a city that provides waste management services, however subpar they may be.

For all of the Ethiopian government’s shortcomings, it is hard to deny a squeaky clean environment has been an important agenda. While waste disposal has been managed unoriginally, with the city’s sole dumping site, Qoshe, already fatally filled up as proof, measures to protect the environment have been somewhat laudable.

There was a time when most of the news by the then state-run Ethiopian Television (ETV), now the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation (EBC), were all about high-level government officials planting tree seedlings in the outskirts of the capital. It was mostly under the guise of seeing a greener city, but it nicely played into the hands of the government’s environment-friendly initiatives.

The Climate Resilient Green Economy (CRGE), launched five years ago, was another scheme integral to reducing the effects of climate change. It was mainly aimed to slacken the government’s developmental plans’ impacts on the climate. Unlike China, whose attitude was to develop first and think about the climate second, there are efforts to make the two go together.

Still, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest otherwise. Large trucks used to transport various construction materials for buildings and road infrastructure are primary polluters that have become a nuisance to passersby and residents. They are the main reasons, aside from poor construction, that cobblestones in many of the city’s neighbourhoods have a short life.

It is tricky to try and take care of the climate, while at the same time there is an ambition to grow, and grow fast. But perhaps there is some solace to be found in the fact that the days of carbon-emitting energy sources are numbered. The world’s most powerful individual, the United States’ (US) President Donald Trump, may think otherwise, but there is not much he can do in the face of multiple multi-national corporations already committed to clean energy.

Even Exxon Mobil Corporation, an oil and gas company, where Rex Tillerson, the US’ current secretary of state, was a CEO, supports some form of carbon pricing.

Similarly, Ethiopia is not short of donors in this regard. There is the Power Africa Initiative that played a part in encouraging independent power producers (IPP). The first solar power generation plant by the Italian multinational company Enel Green Power, partnered with the local Orchid Business Group, is one such example. Using solar energy, the facility can prevent 296,000tns of carbon from being released into the atmosphere every year. Another is Ethio Resource Group (ERG), which will be able to sell electricity produced by six wind-turbines.

In light of the current climate conditions, such investments are crucial. Ethiopia may not be suffering from such visible climate effects as an increase in the sea-level or smog covering the morning air much the same way Beijing is being affected. But the 2016 El Nino-induced drought and this year’s disappointing rainfall are symptoms posing as dire warnings.

Of course, there is not much the country can do in the face of giant polluters like China or the US, the latter of which abandoned a historical climate agreement that almost every country is a signatory of – the Paris Climate Accord. But this does not mean efforts should slow down for aside the environmental benefits of clean energy, early investments in this area will ensure a robust engagement within a growing industry.

Hidar Sitaten, a long-winded tradition, thus, is but an outdated method of getting rid of trash. There is less need for waste, but there is also less need for carbon. Addis Abebans, of course, are hardly at fault for trying to do what the city’s administration could not. Clearing the bureaucratic bottlenecks (for they are nothing more than that at the moment) and allowing the privet sector to engage more in collection to recycling is crucial to city-wide cleanliness on the government’s side.

There are particular societal responsibilities the city’s residents have to also take, like avoiding littering or sorting out plastic from regular trash, that could safeguard from many headaches, keep the city clean and, to a tiny extent, improve the world’s climate.

By Christian Tesfaye
Christian Tesfaye ( is Fortune's Op-Ed Editor whose interests run amok in both directions of print and audiovisual storytelling.

Published on Nov 25,2017 [ Vol 18 ,No 917]



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