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Woyane's Environmental Terror

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February 25th, 2009

By Tedla Asfaw

The Koka Lake I know has turned green thanks to the chemicals damped into the lake. Fertilizers, Nitrogen, Potassium and Phosphorus heavily used to grow commercial flowers and the untreated water from factories surrounding Addis Ababa are the main causes. The less than thirty minutes video on Al Jazeera, "People and Power and Green Lake," aired on Feb 21 is now posted on and is a must see, what I call another terror by regime of Tigray People Liberation Front (Woyanne) in Ethiopia — an environmental terror that feeds the algae while killing our people.

The carcinogen that is now contaminating Lake Koka is killing children. That was not the case with the Koka I know more than twenty years ago. Al Jazeera billed the program as a cost of the heavy growth of Addis Ababa and its surroundings and avoid to blame the government that ownes most of the these polluting industries and flower farms.

Except one European owner of the flower farm around Lake Ziway, far from the Green Lake of Koka, no owner comes in public to be interviewed. The Ethiopian tyrant, while was addressing the Youth in Addis Ababa few weeks ago, there was one question of water related hazard for which he blames the hide industry and that was a one minute question and answer and so much for the concern of the government.

Ethiopia has no government that is accountable for the health and the safety of its citizens and that is the bottom line. Human lives are secondary and Al Jazeera, if it zoomed its lenses, could have shown children, young and elderly with no home begging in the surrounding government owned high rises.

The sad thing is foreign partners of this regime do also miss the Green Lake. Haven't they seen or took pictures on their cell phone on their weekend driving to Sodere? Polluted rivers in Europe and USA are now back to life supporting fish and become a recreational area after years of toxic damping and poor Ethiopia is encouraged to destroy its water resources by pumping loans for a regime that is making fast money at the expense of poor Ethiopian farmers ? Why are we not learning from other countries or we have to first grow by destroying our ecosystem and then start cleaning the mess ?

In a country where there is not any law that protects the public, it might be considered a luxury to look for environmental law. However, this is a criminal case where the harm is done to our people purposely and the Meles regime officials have to be held accountable.


Not a drop to drink (Magnus Franklin writting about Aqaaqii River)

Nov 27, 2008

Magnus Franklin

Since settlements first began springing up, rivers have been a key factor. But what happens when they turn from commercial channels to trash tributaries?

It's the end of the rainy season, and Alemu Mengesha ventures out into his fields outside the Ethiopian town of Akaki to prepare his next crop. But he won't be ploughing or sowing just yet, because in the coming three months he will have to clear the fields of the carpet of plastic bags, shoes, tyres and other rubbish the floods have deposited on his land.

But it's not just garbage that threatens his crops. The floods have also saturated his fields with heavy metals and toxic chemicals, which will make their way into his vegetables and eventually the markets of Addis Ababa, where the very factories that poison his harvest line the banks of the Akaki river.

Unlike many of the rivers that flow through large cities around the world, which have already had a long journey before they reach the city centre, the Akaki starts its life in the hills just outside the capital.

Yet when it leaves the city, the Akaki has turned from a sprightly fresh stream into a toxic sludge, poisoning not only the residents of Addis Ababa, but also the communities further downstream.

But as much as anyone would like to assign blame to a single culprit, the problem is far too complex. The industries in Addis Ababa pour their waste straight into the river; parts of the city are a virtual minefield of faeces mixed with mud, and everywhere, plastic bags, discarded sandals and household rubbish fill the gutters.

The government, meanwhile, plans to improve awareness about depositing rubbish correctly by distributing information flyers - a particularly disingenuous plan given the nature of the problem at hand.

The pollution of the Akaki is severe. A government source who wishes to remain anonymous said that at the point where the river passes the city's only sewage treatment plant (which serves about 5% of Addis Ababa's households), it is actually more toxic than the raw sewage entering the facility.

The pollution in the river also has a direct impact on Addis Ababa's residents. Locals say that once the dry season is in full force, the river is unable to wash away the malodorous sludge pouring into the dry riverbed, leaving it to fester in the sun and saturate the surrounding air.

Incongruously, the government actually has a good legal framework to prevent the kind of pollution the Akaki suffers from, and strict policies designed to ensure that the river is no worse than the relatively clean Thames in London or the Seine in Paris.

Enforcement, however, is another matter. The Ethiopian Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says it does not have enough resources to enforce existing legislation. For example, a law has been passed to ban plastic bag production in Ethiopia, but Mengesha's fields indicate that it is not very effective.

Meanwhile, the most polluting industries, such as the leather tanneries that are responsible for the lion's share of heavy metals deposited in the stream, have been given a five-year deadline by the EPA to clean up their act .

"The tanneries and cement factories are priorities," says an EPA official who prefers not to be named. "But it is a problem to shut down these industries, so we are flexible. Rather than shutting them down, we have developed the means to give them time to implement [pollution control]."

The EPA's work in this area seems to be yielding results. For instance, one of the main leather tanneries has a large sign at the entrance outlining its commitment to pollution control.

By following the tannery's perimeter, however, it becomes clear that these are just hollow words. The sulphuric odour emanating from the factory's sewage is unbearable several hundred metres downstream, and at the point where the sewage pipe meets the Akaki, the rocks and plants are coated with a thick, oily, black slime.

"The smell is worse than the pollution in the river," says 15-year-old Biruk, who lives in a shanty behind the factory. "We can't eat when the smell gets bad, but the children still swim in the river."

Clamping down on industry is solving only half the problem. Human waste, both excrement and rubbish, is also polluting the streets of Addis Ababa and the Akaki. The EPA is having trouble getting big business to comply with the legislation, and trying to persuade individuals to do the same is proving a mammoth task.

Life's luxuries

For a family earning 7 birr (41p) a day, which is a normal income in Addis Ababa's poor communities, it is too expensive to maintain a toilet of any kind. Water-flushed toilets would be unsuitable in the drought-prone area anyway, and clean water is expensive. Septic tanks, which constitute around 15% of Addis Ababa's toilets, require suction trucks to empty them every few years. In addition, some can't afford to build a toilet, while others don't have the space.

Instead, as many as 30% - over 1 million - of the city's residents have no choice but to do their toilet business on the street, or in someone else's back yard, spreading disease around the community and, eventually, the river, since it costs too much to have a latrine emptied.

"I've lived here all my life and haven't had a toilet," says Fozijasai who lives on the bank of the Akaki in central Addis Ababa. "I go to the toilet down by the river, and at night my husband comes with me because it's not safe. My baby will also be going to the river when she grows up," she adds, nodding to the baby she is holding in her arms.

The lack of toilets receives little attention, mainly because most people don't like to talk about poo and pee. And in the developed world, the infrastructure is in place to ensure that most of us don't have to think twice about what happens to our excrement. But anyone who has queued in the mud for the portaloos at a British music festival in the summer should have an inkling of how unpleasant it can be to live without adequate facilities.

According to UK NGO WaterAid, Ethiopia ranks among the lowest in the world in terms of access to safe water and sanitation facilities. Only a quarter of the population have access to safe water supplies, while only one in six have adequate sanitation. Water-related diseases are rife and health services are limited.

The office of the Addis Ababa Water and Sewerage Authority contains a map detailing plans for several water-treatment plants and sewerage for the entire city. But so far it is only a map. As it stands, just 10% of households are served with sewers, out of which only half are actually connected to the system.

Understandably, the people who live along the river do not even consider the waterway a river, but rather an open-air sewer-cum-garbage chute. They have no qualms about dumping their waste there: it is already so filthy that they won't even use it for the most basic cleaning.

Meanwhile, back in Akaki, Mengesha ties up another bundle of plastic bags he has picked up from his fields, and without blinking an eye, throws it back in the river. He shrugs his shoulders and, wearing a blank expression, asks "What else am I going to do with it?"

Source: The Guardian

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