Safety Talk-Why City Roads Went Unsafe

If there is one thing typical of Addis Abeba, the capital ofEthiopia, in the last eight years, it is the booming infrastructure sector. Constituting the core of the boom is the expansion in road networks. Despite the increasing accessibility of the city, road safety seems are one area that attracts little attention in the policy circles.

That is not the case for Abebe Dinku, professor of construction management, at the oldest university of the nation, Addis Abeba University (AAU). His is rather a life that always takes safety into account, from teaching it to living it. His engagement in teaching construction materials and management for graduate students, at the Faculty of Technology, furthers his relationship with road safety.

One of the rare minds on road safety, Professor Abebe’s education has taken him from the AAU, as an undergraduate, to the University of Stuttgart, Germany, to undertook his PHD studies. He was also a senior Fulbright Scholar at the University of Maryland,United States, in 2005/06.

In this exclusive interview with Yetneberk Tadele, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF of FORTUNE, Prof. Abebe reflects on the poor road safety system of the City of Addis Abeba and the possible ways out. Excerpts:


Fortune: Road safety theories state that designs are the start and the end of safe roads. Yet, Ethiopian road designs provide little focus on safety issues. Where do you think this originate from?

Prof. Abebe Dinku: I think the designers focus mainly on technical issues, leaving aside the safest path to project execution. Sometimes, designers fail to identify necessary precautions that could be useful during construction and maintenance operations. As it is popularly known, design undertakings should address all issues, including non-technical parameters, such as; public safety, employee’s health and safety, environmental issues, and so on. Why road designs inEthiopiado not give sufficient attention to safety could partly be attributed to a lack of international exposure and specific training on road safety designs.

Q: To be specific, if we take Bole road, which is under construction currently, the first plan was to construct one of the lanes, whilst opening the other. Yet, now, it is interrupted and both lanes are closed. How do you relate the mismanagement of this particular project with the possible impact it has on residents?

In fact, during the design or construction of the roads the general public should be involved. In a sense, whatever activity is going on, the public should be informed. The City Administration might give many reasons why this has not happened, however, if the roads are damaged without your knowledge and subsequently your life and your business is affected, you must be compensated. Meaning, even if the road is built with the purpose of development, those who are affected in this process should be compensated.

In this case, the information that ought to be provided is; how long does it take to complete this road, one year or two? Was this communicated to those who are doing business around the area?

If yes, then they should have prepared in some way on their own, or with the assistance of the city administration. They should have prepared themselves so that they continue to do business until a certain point in time.

Q: How could such risks have been avoided?

If they were not consulted; if the road is not finished on time; and if they cannot have access to their business and thus it collapses; then, that is poor management. Because these people also employ many people and they, in turn, have families that they need to serve.

It should have been possible to give the appropriate leeway. It should have been possible to build the road and at the same time to provide sufficient access. There ought to be overhead access from one business to another. It should have been possible to provide a covered walkway for pedestrians, so that they can walk safely from one shop to another. For me, this is an important procedural flaw and shows disrespect to the community.

Q: The experience of other countries shows that there is a clear way to handle safety issues. For instance, an international standard clearly indicates that whoever suffers during a construction process, ought to be compensated. However, such standards and laws are non-existent inEthiopia. In the absence of such standards, does the country have an alternative means of resolving such an issue?

We can divide this issue into two categories. If it is an international contract, it is mainly governed by the International Federation of Consulting Engineers (FIDIC) conditions of contract. According to this standard, any construction process should satisfy international conditions.

Whoever suffers during the construction should be compensated, either by the client or by the contractors. This is clearly stated.

If you are living very close to the construction site and the construction blocks your access to the road, either they should take you to another hotel that you will be allocated for that specific period, or they should provide you with a way to get in to your apartment. In the absence of these, it is generally, I can say, either arrogance or being disrespectful to the people.

In the Ethiopian condition of contract, it depends on the way you agreed. It depends on those who signed the contract. Those who draft the contract are responsible for it. For example, in this road design, the person, the company, whoever prepared the contract is responsible.

To answer your question, yes we have a legal framework. The Ethiopian Civil Code clearly states that in the process of doing business, one should not cause damage to those who are running their businesses legitimately. If anything happens to them, they should be properly compensated.

Q: One frontier for poor safety in Ethiopia is poor post-injury responses. There seem to be in congruence, between the ground reality and the policy focus. What do you think is the best way to bridge this gap?

Here we are talking about two different issues; poor safety, on one hand, and poor post-injury response on the other. The first could be handled by appropriate design considerations and construction policy guidelines, which are mainly engineering, whilst the latter has more to do with legal issues, insurance cases and access to health facilities. They are complimentary to each other, however, and a policy drafted by coordinated efforts would address the issue for the benefit of society.

Above all, exposure to modern practices, as have been exercised in the developed world, and adopting it into our own community is of paramount importance. One thing should be clear; safety should be a concern to all parties. Clients, consultants, contractors, local authorities, federal government, the general public, insurance and banking institutions should all share this concern and work, hand in hand, to address the issue, in the exercise of developing our nation.

Q: The city of Addis Abeba is expanding at a rate of 10pc annually. The road network is also increasing, at a rate of eight percent. But, safety is a rarely mentioned issue in the local policy discourse. What holds the city back from exercising adequate safety measures?

As far as I remember, the former Ministry of Works & Urban Development had sponsored a document preparation, entitled, “Health and Safety Norms in Construction Industry”, in which I was a co-author, back in 1998. I also remember having read a document on occupational safety and health directives, issued by the Ministry of Labour & Social Affairs (MoLSA), back in 2003. Both documents, however, were limited only to providing guidance and did not have legal power to impose conditions that need to be fulfilled, by all concerned parties.

Besides, I am afraid there was no coordination between the two Ministries, in their efforts to produce the norms and directives.  Considering these facts, it is totally unfair not to have a governing policy on safety issues.

It is now high time for the relevant authorities to take appropriate measures. I believe that the ongoing effort by the Ministry of Urban Development & Construction (MoUDC) to review construction codes will address the issue and upgrade it to a new formal code.

Published on Dec 30, 2012 [ Vol 13 ,No 661]



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