A Town Blessed by Nature Facing Modern Challenges
Located 454km from Addis Ababa in the southern part of Ethiopia, Arba Minch is home to more than quarter a million people. The town is also a habitat for various aquatic and wild animals. Because of the good climatic condition, the area is also conducive for several varieties of fruits and vegetables.
Arbaminch’s natural endowment is a great factor for the growth of tourism in the town. This has contributed for a burgeoning hospitality industry which has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years. However, mainly because of human factors, these natural resources are at risk of perishing. EBR’s Kiya Ali, who visited the naturally endowed town recently, reports.
Arba Minch has left an indelible mark in the life Mekonnen Shome, a businessman, since his childhood. Not only he grew up in the town, he also made his fortune there. But, lately, everything he has earned turned into ash. His shop, located inside the largest marketplace in the Town known as Sikala was fully damaged. “On my way to work, my friends informed me that fire accident has destroyed my shop,” Mekonnen told EBR. “When I reached there, everything was already gone.”
Yet, thanks to the residents of the town, Mekonnen and other individuals affected by the fire were able to overcome the difficult time of their life. Their neighbors and other residents of the town raised funds to restore their businesses. They used the funds to reconstruct the damaged shops. “Despite the challenges that we faced, our neighbors and the entire people of the town helped us survive this distressful moment,” says Mekonnen.
Despite the fact that the population of the town is comprised of different ethnic groups with various cultural and linguistic backgrounds, the experience of Mekonnen and many others demonstrate that Arba Minch is indeed full of generous and tolerant people.
Beyond such kindness, Arba Minch is celebrated for being a site for sour eyes. The dense forest area that covers the largest part of the town along with the numerous lakes and springs make residents of the town feel at ease, while being a source of amusement and recreation for tourists. Many describe the place as an area where visitors’ free spirit could be at maximum ecstasy. Unlike many other towns in Ethiopia, the roads in Arbaminch have sidewalks that have trees. Fruits like mango, guava, apple, orange, pineapple, banana and sweetsop are abundantly available. In fact, it is common to see banana farms along the main roads in many places. One can buy a kilo of apple with ETB70 while banana and mango are available for ETB20. Orange could also be bought with ETB23 a kilo.
Located in the Southern regional state, 454 kilo meters away from Addis Ababa, Arba Minch covers an area of 5556.62 hectare, making it the second largest town in the state next to Hawassa. A home to more 250,000 people, Arba Minch is rich with natural resources including two of the largest lakes in Ethiopia, Abaya and Chamo. In fact, the name of the town, which means forty springs, is drawn from the availability such water resource in abundance.
Nech Sar National Park, located in the east of Arba Minch, is a big treasure of the town. To visit Nech Sar, which lies between Lake Abaya to the north and Lake Chamo to the south, Ethiopian tourists pay ETB20, while foreigners pay ETB90. Tourists can travel inside the park by car or by boat. The cost of transport by boat along with 10 people could be between ETB1,760 and ETB2,200. Last year, the Park collected ETB150 million in entrance fee.
But the level of attention given to this tourist attraction site is very disappointing, according to Shimeles Zenebe, Administration Head of the Park. “Although the park is rich in natural resources and is the main source of income for the town, the attention given to it is very little,” he says.
Shimeles classifies the major problems Nech Sar faces into two main categories: internal and external. The internal one includes inadequate road infrastructure. “The main road inside the Park was built in 1983. During that time, the number of visitors was a bit more than 3,000 annually. This has now increased to 40,000. Yet, we are still using a road constructed 27 year ago, which is heavily damaged,” Shimeles told EBR. “There is also no information center and camp site inside the Park.”
The external problem includes the settlement of a large number of people inside the Park. While 10 kebeles, a local administrative unit equivalent to county in the western world, are found adjacent to the Park, one of which is found within the park’s premise. People living in these areas cultivate agricultural commodities on top of hunting wild animals, according to Shimelis. “Besides affecting the ecology of the park, this has reduced the forest coverage. The population of wild animals has also declined over the years,” he says. “For instance, animals like Buffalo and African Wild dog, both categorized as endangered wild animals, are on the verge of disappearing from Nech Sar.”
Abaya and Chamo lakes are additional treasures of Arba Minch where 16 species of fish live. Chamo covers 351 square kilo meters; while Abaya rests in 1180 square kilo meters area. Although the two lakes had abundant aquatic resources few years back, the amount has reduced drastically because of excessive fishing by the local communities. Additionally, waste thrown into the lakes is one of the reasons for the drop in fish production. The impact of these human actions is severe in Lake Chamo, which is home to varieties of aquatic birds like pelican, fish eagles, Nile crocodiles and Hippos. So far, about 30 hectares of land that was covered by water has dried mainly due to human factors.
Abaya, the second largest lake in Ethiopia, is also a victim of similar problems. Especially in recent months, the invasion of Water hyacinth, commonly known as Emboch, is sharply reducing the water level of the lake. The weed invaded 1780 hectares of the lake, which is almost twice the size of Arada District in Addis Ababa. To make things worse, because of the presence of aggressive crocodiles, it is very difficult to clear the weed. Although a committee has been formed to curb the spread of the weed, the effort bore no fruit so far.
The other treasure of Arba Minch is the crocodile ranch, the only one of its kind in Ethiopia. The Ranch is found at the south west shore of Lake Abaya and adjacent to Nech Sar National Park. The Ranch, established to export crocodile skin and meat, covers three hectares of land. While making a contribution to conservation of the globally threatened crocodile specious, it fetches scarce foreign currenccy to the national reserve.
Beyond making a direct contribution to the economy, such tourist attraction sites also attract investors in the hotel industry. Over the past decade, more than 15 hotels, four lodges and two resorts have become operational in the town. This has contributed to the growing popularization of Arbaminch’s traditional food such as Focheche and Kurcupa, which are made from potato, corn and spinach.
8th Year • July.16 – Aug.15 2019 • No. 76