Rising Urban Population

Rising Urban Population Leads to Sanitation Woes

For Addis Ababa residents, it’s not uncommon to witness leaking sewers or waste accumulating in open ditches throughout the city. While these issues contribute to poor aesthetics in the city, they also beget a number of public health concerns. Despite the strides Ethiopia has made in improving access to sanitation, the country fell short of the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) that were set: improving access to 28Pct instead of the goal of 52Pct. To that end, the government is working to make the situation better, especially in Addis Ababa. EBR’s Meseret Mamo spoke with Addis Ababa residents about their experiences with poor sanitation and city officials to learn more about what’s being done to improve the livelihoods of those most affected by this public health matter.

In the face of increasing urbanisation, sanitation in Ethiopia has become a serious issue in recent years. Many attribute the problem to a mismatch between the increasing urban population and the corresponding service level growth.
In cities like Addis Ababa, it common to see garbage, human and animal wastes, leaking sewers and unclean toilets throughout the city. Those inhabitants that are forced to live under such problematic conditions, especially in impoverished areas, describe the situation as unhygienic, undignified and unhealthy.
In fact, Addis Ababa has a few public toilets and only two sewage systems, which are out-dated and contribute to the lacklustre condition of sanitation in the capital.
The situation is worse in certain parts of the city. Jemal Reshid, Deputy Manager of Sewerage Disposal Treatment and Reuse Core Process at the Addis Ababa Water and Sewerage Authority (AAWSA), says the Gulele District lags behind all districts in terms of access to clean sanitation. One of the poorest districts in that region is Woreda 5, where 29,520 people reside.
Tariku Adenwe, 27, was born in Woreda 5 of the Gulele District and currently lives there. He says ever since he was a child there has been a big sanitation problem in his neighbourhood. “Until recently, there was only one toilet for about ten households and most of us were forced to use a nearby river,” he told EBR. “But now there are four toilets in the neighbourhood, which are used by 12 households.”
Although it is better than previous years, Tariku says there is an open ditch near his home where wastes, including human waste and chemicals, contribute to the bad smell around the area.
Such inadequate liquid waste collection and disposal create a range of environmental problems in Addis Ababa. This is because a considerable amount of waste ends up in open dumps or drainage systems, threatening environmental quality and providing a breeding ground for disease-carrying pests.
Information obtained from the Woreda’s health extension service reveals the consequences of poor sanitation service provisions. The data demonstrates poor sanitation is a causal factor for half of the total patients the Woreda clinic accepted in 2014/2015. Additionally, in the first quarter of the current fiscal year, seven types of diseases, including diarrhoea, typhoid, typhus, parasites and upper respiratory tract infections, which are caused by poor sanitation, made it on the list of top ten diseases treated at the clinic.
Jemal says the problem is intense and it is difficult to resolve within a short period of time. “The fact that the city is becoming densely populated due to population growth and migration has aggravated the problem,” Jemal told EBR.
Certainly, the rapid growth of the urbanites has accelerated the process of slum formation in Addis Ababa. The emergence of slums in developing countries is largely influenced by the rate of rural-to-urban migration and the rate of absorption.
Statistics indicate that in Ethiopia, the urban population has been growing at an average rate of 5.84Pct for last 15 years, which means roughly 756 people are added to urban populations across the country every day. The urban population is now expected to reach 30Pct of the total population by 2020, up from the current 16Pct (or a little more than 15 million). Addis Ababa is one of the largest cities in Africa, with more than 3 million residents. Since 80Pct of residents of the city live in urban slums, its people have been facing serious sanitation problems, according to an article published in the Science Journal of Public Health in 2014 entitled “Situational Analysis of Access to Improved Sanitation in the Capital of Ethiopia.”
This rate of population growth will continue to contribute to worsening slum conditions in Addis Ababa. The latest figures from the Central Statistical Agency reveal that in Addis Ababa, the residential density has surpassed more than 5,071 persons per square kilometre, with attached houses being built in a haphazard manner without adequate liquid waste disposal facilities, sanitary toilets, inadequate surface drainage and open drains.
“Besides the limited availability of toilets, the fact that the Woreda is situated in slum areas makes building public toilets as well as collecting and dumping liquid waste difficult,” argues Michael Nega, Health Extension Supervisor at the Woreda. This is because in slums, houses are built in close proximity to one another, resulting in tight spacing that makes it difficult for trucks to collect and dispose of waste.
Officials stress it is because of a lack of capacity that the City Administration is doing little to improve the sanitation problem in the capital. ‘‘The Authority charges ETB176 per trip to dispose of liquid waste but the whole operation costs more than ETB600 [to conduct], which is cost ineffective,” says Jemal. “[Inviting] the private sector into the business has helped a little but it is not a long-lasting solution.”
According to the Authority the waste generated in the capital stood at 261,668 cubic metres per day. However, of the total only 41Pct is collected and half of that is properly treated. Jemal also says collecting liquid waste through pipes is a safe and modern way of preventing it from becoming a threat to public health for residents. “However, little is accomplished in this regard,” explains Jemal.
Mikiyas Wolde, a researcher at the Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Energy, stresses that the sanitation problem in the capital is difficult to improve, especially in slum areas. “Strengthening the sewerage system is expensive and cannot be achieved within a short period of time,” he argues. “But a lot can be done by purchasing tracks to transport the liquid waste and building more public toilets.”
There are only two liquid waste treatment plants in the city, where domestic liquid waste is dumped and refined for the purpose of purification and reuse: one in the Yeka District and the other in the Akaki Kality District. Both facilities are old, but the Authority says it is planning to finalise the construction of an additional four plants and expand the existing ones within the next two years. “Since the task requires intensive capital and technology, [the development will be] very challenging,” says Jemal.
The biggest liquid waste treatment plant under construction, located at the Kaliti site, will raise the city liquid waste collection and disposal coverage to 63Pct and will cost USD100 million. So far, the plant is 15Pct complete and the Authority plans to have it completed within two years. When it is finished it will have the capacity to purify 100,000 cubic metres of liquid waste per day.
The other liquid waste treatment plant under construction, at the Chefe Akaki sub-branch, will have the capacity to purify 60,000 cubic metres of liquid waste upon completion. “We are aggressively looking for funds to finalise the construction of two other catchment areas,” says Jemal.
Despite the government’s efforts to improve the state of sanitation in Ethiopia, there’s more work to be done in order to comply with international standards. According the previously mentioned article published in the Science Journal of Public Health in 2014, the country is far from reaching the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It also suggests that the majority of urban residents are living under severe health and environmental risks.
The MDG sanitation target, on a global level, was to reduce the proportion of the world’s population without access to improved sanitation from 25Pct in 1990 to 21Pct in 2015. Despite progresses, meeting the MDG sanitation target is lacking and has become a challenging task in developing countries. According to the World Health Organisation, Ethiopia improved access to clean sanitation to 28Pct; however, the country fell short of its specified goal of improving access to 52Pct.
Jemal says the government is committed to improving the situation in the future. “Now we are able to construct 500 more public toilets and we have a plan to construct 3,000 toilets in the next five years, as well as complete the liquid waste treatment plants that are under construction on time.” EBR


4th Year • January 16 2016 – February 15 2016 • No. 35

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