Government officials have made no secret of their desire to have the manufacturing sector be a strong component of Ethiopia’s quest towards economic development. This goal, however, comes with environmental concerns, as factories tend to produce waste that gets dumped into nearby waterways. As a result, a number of adverse, long-term health and environmental effects are likely to arise. So what’s being done to tackle this reality? EBR’s Ashenafi Endale spoke with key insiders to learn more about environmental considerations in an era of rapid industrialisation.
Mohammad Seid, 34, a father of four, was watering his deteriorated vegetable farm located by the side of Tinishu (small) Akaki River, in the Nifasilk Lafto District, on October 9, 2016. He has been growing different vegetables in the area for the last 10 years.
“Sometimes we water the vegetables by bringing clean water from the house because we fear it might stop growing,” says Mohamamd, who works on the farm with his brother to feed his family by selling the produce they grow. In fact, most parts of the riverbank are covered by farms of different vegetables whose leaves look burnt due to the highly polluted river.
On the other side of the river resides Awash Tannery, which Mohammad says used to release its waste into the river until a year ago. “I have not see the Tannery’s waste since last year,” he says. “But the waste that comes from other industries still threaten our way of life.”
Abebe Dabi, 58, and father of seven, who is engaged in vegetable farming near the Akaki River around Tirunesh Beijing Hospital, has a similar experience. “The soil never supports the vegetable to grow,” he stresses. “The river water is very bad down here.”
Right after the Nifasilk District, the river Mohammad and Abebe depend on enters Tiliku (bigger) Akaki River, located in the Akaki Kaliti District. Just like most of the rivers in the capital, the sides of the river are filled with chemicals, mud, plastic and household waste, all of which contaminate the water, rendering it unusable for farming.
This is a reality in most developing countries, including Ethiopia, where massive economic development is taking place. Since the government’s focus is to industrialise the economy, an increasing number of industries contaminate the environment, particularly the quality of rivers, damaging human health and deteriorating the local resources as well as the ecosystem.
In recent years, Addis Ababa has undergone rapid urbanisation and industrialisation because of the rising population and an increase in manufacturing establishments. With more than five million residents and numerous manufacturing establishments, problems related to the management of industrial waste have become a growing threat to urban dwellers, especially in the capital.
This threat, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), can have adverse health effects on denizens: “Unmanaged wastewater is an important source of pollution and a hazard for human health and ecosystems services. The costs related to the pollution of water bodies can be significant: the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment report suggests the cost of degradation of ecosystem services in coastal waters is mostly associated with impacts on human health, while the overall economic value of the goods and services delivered by healthy coasts and oceans are worth trillions of dollars.”
Specifically, the UNEP says these effects include, but are not limited to, an increase in waterborne illnesses and unsafe foods, placing a financial burden on the healthcare system and its costs; decreased agricultural and industrial productivity; reduced market value for harvested crops due to an inadequate or dirty water supply; diminished fish catches; bad odours; and a degraded ecosystem.
The textile and leather factories are especially known for using a large amount of pollutant chemicals, which they discharge to rivers, due, in part, to a lack of strong coordination among regulatory and implementing institutions like the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA); Food, Medicine, and Health Care Administration and Control Authority (FMHACA); Addis Ababa Industry Development Bureau (AAIDB); Addis Ababa Trade Bureau; Ministry of Industry (MoI); Ministry of Environmental Protection and Climate Change (MoEPCC); Ministry of Health; law enforcement offices; the Addis Ababa City Administration and regional governments.
Because of the lack of infrastructure outside the capital, 63Pct of the industries in the country are located in and around capital, which has an area of 527 square kilometres. Almost all of the industries that are located near rivers have no treatment plants and do not meet the minimum standards set by the EPA. “Years ago, the industries were erected without treatment plants,” says an expert at the EPA, who spoke EBR on the condition of anonymity. “As a result, it was justified to locate the factories near the rivers and discharge the waste directly into the rivers.”
Others agree: “Environmental issues have not been a priority thus far,” argues Adugna Wondimu, Deputy Director General of the EPA. “Unless an effective coordination among different institutions is re-established, this will lead to a very severe environmental and health damage.”
In addition to damaging plants and soil, there are serious human health issues for those living in close proximity to the rivers. According to studies conducted on the soil and vegetables farmed near the rivers in the capital, there was a high concentration of ten heavy metals that may cause cancer. The studies were done by different international institutions, including the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Health Organisation, between 1991 and 2001. These chemicals directly enter into the contents of the vegetables, and finally to consumers, according to the studies, thereby increasing incidences of illness.
These problems are not only limited to the capital. The Tikur Wuha River (meaning ‘black water’ in Amharic), which is located in Hawassa, is another example. The River, which until today was black, was highly polluted by chemicals released from Hawassa Textile Factory, located near the waterway. Many farmers lost their cattle because of the chemicals, before the factory was forced to install a treatment plant a few years ago.
While some industries located in the capital have primary treatment plants, they do not operate them in order to cut operating costs. As a result, experts at the EPA and FMHACA worry about the rivers contaminating foods and causing illness.
Although the EPA has given a five-year grace period for the industries to install at least primary treatment plants, the grace period expired three years ago. Because of the economic contribution of the industries, EPA officials say it is difficult to go beyond issuing repetitive warnings. A few months ago, the Authority issued final warnings to 48 industries in the capital; most of them are engaged in the leather, paint, textile and plastic sub-sectors.
“Even though we have tried to close some of the industries, it would not even last for half a day, because the [Addis Ababa] City Administration lets them open indirectly, without our consent,” according to the expert at the EPA. “People think the EPA is doing nothing but nobody knows what we are facing.”
In the past, the AAIDB and MoI had to get approval from the EPA to allow any new industry to start operation or renew their license. However, since last year, the two have stopped doing so, according to officials at the EPA.
“Although these are mistakes that were made years ago, they must be corrected now,” argues Adugna. “But still, there is unnecessary involvement from the city government, which affects the EPA’s efforts to stop industrial pollution, especially after the grace period expired.”
Research conducted on the subject testifies to the reality that industrial pollution control lacks monitoring and reporting measures. A study entitled ‘Peculiar Health Problems Due to Industrial Wastes in Addis Ababa City’ by Tesfay Aregawi stresses that weak capacity in environmental management and enforcement is a key challenge in Ethiopia, a country that aspires to achieve middle-income status by 2025 through industrialisation.
According to the study, a lack of coordination and enforcement is preventing the government from achieving a proper trade-off between environment and development, despite the fact that the government says environmental issues are a priority in many of its policies.
In 2000 the Parliament approved the Ethiopian Pollution Control Proclamation. Three years ago, the EPA rolled out provisional standards for industrial pollution control, proposing two approaches to be used by industries. The first approach, which involves cleaner production to reduce pollution, is a voluntary activity that industries may follow. On the other hand, the use of technologies to reduce industrial waste is the second approach. This approach, which obliges industries to construct waste treatment facilities, is also known as the ‘end-of-pipe’ approach.
Tesfay explains the nature of these approaches. The first one emphasises the prevention or reduction of waste at the source. Therefore it is linked with increased productivity and profitability without compromising environmental benefits. On contrary, the end-of-pipe approach does not completely eliminate the waste other than its economic implications, since generation of waste implies a loss of resources; hence, a loss of production opportunity and profitability.
For years, the government and factories have tried to address industrial pollution concerns using these two approaches. Yet, stakeholders stress that pursuing one or both of these approaches is costly.
Idris Ibrahim, owner and General Manager of Addis Ababa Tannery, explains the cost of choosing the end-of-pipe approach: “In addition to the cost that will be incurred to construct the treatment plant, there are also other expenses, such as the running costs, all of which do not have a return.” The Tannery, which is one of the oldest industries in the capital, hasn’t had a treatment plant for the last 80 years and has been discharging the wastes to Soramba River, located around Asko in the Gulele District.
The probability of following the first approach is also minimal under the current circumstances, according to Idris. “The quality of the skins supplied is very bad,” he says. “This will hinder any effort to avoid wastes from the source.”
Idris acquired the Tannery two years ago from the government at a cost of ETB22 million. He is renewing it by replacing the machineries and investing in human capital. Having spent nearly ETB27 million, he is also working on the civil work of a secondary treatment plant. The facility has a capacity to produce 5 million square feet of leather annually, but is operating at only 40Pct capacity. It uses 300,000 cubic metres of water per day.
Gizaw Molla, Manager for the Planning and MIS Department at the Ethio Leather Industry (ELICO), which owns Awash and Abyssinia tanneries as well as the Universal and Fontanina shoe factories, agrees with Idris. “I do not think the fact that almost all factories in the capital are located near rivers is because of a lack of land, it is just in fear of the operating costs of treatment plants,” he argues. However, he stresses that whatever the excuses, using treatment plants and rehabilitating the damaged ecology should be mandatory from now on.
The two tanneries under ELICO have the capacity to process 9 million square feet sheep skin, 7 million square feet of hide and 7 million square feet of goat skin annually. But currently, they operate at 70Pct of their overall capacity. Fontanina also produces 1,000 shoes per day. ELICO is currently establishing another company that can produce 5,000 shoes per day.
Abyssinia Tannery finalised construction of a treatment plant three months ago at a cost of ETB28 million, which is currently operational. The Tannery, which only has a primary treatment plant, is currently in the last stage of floating an international tender to build another treatment plant, according to Gizaw.
They currently recycle 600,000 cubic metres of water per day and recover part of the chrome they used, fulfilling 100Pct of the EPA’s requirements, according to Mesay Getachew, Manager of the Tannery: “Labour, chemicals, electricity, maintenance and spare parts are costs of the treatments plants. Treatment plants have no direct return but it is a matter of existence and the government should enforce this strictly.”
Despite the regulatory bodies’ failure, however, industry players say there is a push from international consumers that buy industrial products from Ethiopia. “Although it is not economically viable, we decided to erect a treatment plant because some of our customers in Europe have refused to buy from a tannery that does not honour its environmental responsibilities. This means we cannot escape it anymore,” says Idris. “Currently we have reached agreements to export to two companies in Italy.”
Gizaw shares Idris’s opinion. “International consumers are also pushing towards eco-friendly industries,” he said. “This should be the criteria locally, too. And the government has to enforce this by coordinating the activities of responsible institutions.”
In order to reap these potential benefits, the UNEP argues that there must be coordination among those involved in the sector, especially among regulators, who should encourage investment in wastewater treatment.
So far, according to insiders, there is not much coordination between regulatory stakeholders like the EPA, MoI, industry bureaus, FMHACA, and the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, among others. But officials say the government is amending the proclamation that can facilitate such coordination and enable the FMHACA to work strictly with the stakeholders.
“There should be a legal framework that can enable the stakeholders to take polluters to court,” says Fasika Getenet, Health Related Institutions Team Case Coordinator at the FMHACA. “Institutions shouldn’t push each other but rather they should work together. And for that there should be a legal framework.”
Fasika also adds that the major industrial parks currently under construction across the country should pay attention to environmental considerations: “Since industrial parks will be the core of industrialisation in the future, enough attention should be given.”
As for the capital city, the AAIDB has planned to move the industries outside the capital. The Bureau has finalised a study to establish the Addis Ababa Clustered Industries Corporation and will likely establish it this year, according to Mekonen Shemeles, Deputy Head of the Bureau. The Corporation will develop and rent sheds outside the capital, in a manner similar to the Industrial Parks Development Corporation at the national level.
“Middle-level industries in the capital that have no treatment plants should move to the cluster areas, which will have its own treatment plant that can be used collectively,” says Mekonen. “The cluster will be developed based on forward and backward linkages and the industries will focus on their productions.”
According to Mekonen, the biggest challenge in the capital has been that the industries are scattered, making it difficult to establish a unified treatment plant. “We are waiting for the approval of the cabinet to establish the Corporation,” said Mekonen.
As for providing a solution for the already contaminated rivers by industrial waste, stakeholders stress that it will be difficult, even more than erecting a treatment plant or relocating industries out of the capital.
Nevertheless, the city government has established the Addis Ababa City Government Rivers, Riversides Development and Climate Change Adaptation Project Office, which is directly accountable to the mayor, ten months ago. A committee that is led by the mayor and works with 22 cross-sector institutions was also established.
The Office is tasked with riverside development and management; climate change mitigation and adaptation; design preparation, construction, supervision and contract administration; plan research, preparation, implementation, follow up and monitoring.
“Rivers in Addis are the end takers for everything from household to industrial wastages,” argues Walelign Desalegn, Project Manager of the Project Office, who is also an urban planner by practice, specialising in environmental science.
The missions of the Project Office are already included in the next Master Plan, which is geared towards solving challenges in housing, social services, roads; creating an ecological friendly environment; and build the capital city based on international standards, within the next 25 years, according to Walelign.
“The Project Office is needed because the EPA cannot handle activities related to rivers in addition to its other tasks,” he explains. “Plus, any state project that costs more than ETB500 million must be handled by a separate office, according to the Public Procurement and Property Administration Agency procedure.”
In order to rehabilitate and develop the rivers, the Project Office is undertaking detailed studies with Addis Ababa University’s Ethiopian Institute of Architecture and Building Construction and two international consultants, one of which is the London-based Atkins, which developed stadiums for the 2012 London Olympics.
“Designs for some parts of the Project are in the final stages. There are over 35 researchers working on the studies and design. The Project Office expects to receive them within a month and float international bids to develop them, within the next three month,” says Walelign.
The Rehabilitation and Development Project should be finalised within the next 20 years and detailed plans are divided into five-year plans. Areas given priority to start within the first five years are Kechene, Banteyiketu and Kurtime rivers around Ambassador Theatre in the Kirkos District; and areas around Ghion Hotel, Arat Kilo and up to Sheger Park in the Gulele District, which is close to four kilometres, according to Walelign.
“Each kilometre in this Project is estimated to cost ETB300 million. Seven segments are picked for this Project. A building data centre and the establishment of five additional parks are among the plans of the Project Office,” he says. EBR
5th Year • November 16 2016 – December 15 2016 • No. 45