Ethiopia: Aftermath of the Tragic Rubbish Dump Landslide

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Ethiopians have been wailing miserably, biting their nails and gnawing their teeth due to the tragic rubbish dump landslide that occurred on March 11, 2017. It claimed several human lives in an area usually called Qoshe, in Kolfe-Keranyo Sub-city of Addis Ababa. (Qoshe in Amharic literally means heap of rubbish). The nation has then been gripped with unprecedented tragedy over the death of scores of citizens. So far, the real cause of the accident is not known apart from the mere speculation that the lengthy fermentation of the long-dumped rubbish and its sudden sliding and explosion causing the landslide. The accident was aggravated by gush of rubbish wide enough to inundate helpless dwellers who were about to go to sleep at night.

One convalescent woman in Alert Hospital said she lost her two daughters and husband because of the landslide. Most regrettably, she said, the voice of one of her daughter calling for help saying, ‘Mom save me! Mom save me!’ is still ringing in her head. The woman lamented terribly that the avalanche flooded the entire village and ruined everything within its reach.

She said her whole body is aching due to fracture and dislocation caused by the rubbish dump accident that heaped up on her all of a sudden and swept down everything on its way. The woman said she had survived miraculously, though she did not think her future life would be worth living.

Today scores of survivors have been temporarily sheltered in Kolfe-Keranyo Youth Centre inside makeshift camps and tents. They said the City Administration, Ethiopian Red Cross Society and various NGOs are providing some emergency relief aid to withstand the tragedy temporarily. City dwellers are also scrambling to help them personally and in groups. However, their last hope for lasting rehabilitation is heavily relied on the City Administration which they said is capable of providing them with plots or houses/condominiums.

Some bereaved families said they have been living in the area for the last forty years, ever since rubbish started to be dumped there. They said they have gained ownership certificates for their plots and built houses until the avalanche swept it away. The accumulation of rubbish dump has swept through shelters including poorly-built shacks, ram shackles, debris houses to well-built concrete houses.

Some villagers said the accident had eroded its way through some 15 legal residences. The rubbish dump barrage also flooded away numerous shacks and derelict shelters. The accident occurred at night and made the rescue effort very difficult, and hence resulted in a tragic loss of life many.

Residents said the area have been Addis’ rubbish dumping ground for the last sixty years. The actual limit of Quoshe was 200 meters away from victimized residences. There is also a field and a river between the over-hanging dump site and the villages. The field was wide enough and village boys were used to playing football on it. However, the dump site started to swell up with time and started to impinge on villagers. Soon the river was clogged by rubbish and its natural course was hampered and hence spilled the rubbish content into the village.

Regarding the disaster, villagers said large-scale rescue effort officially started on Sunday afternoon, the following morning. But it was too late due to night fall (they are suspicious of the fact that the calamity was exacerbated due to negligence of some officials). It might have been possible to save more lives had the rescue effort started very quickly. Seeing the sluggish response to save lives, some villagers said, they tried to provide assistance by themselves by renting excavator machines which cost them 9,000 birr per hour. However, the machines could not get them anywhere and reduce the tragedy as much as they wished. Their limited financial capacity could not enable them to purchase ample machines to unload the huge rubbish that inundated lots of hectares of land and clear clogged venues that were important facilitate easy movement.

Accordingly, the nation declared three days national mourning from March 15-17, 2017. The number of dead reached 125 as of March17, 2016. In the aftermath, people are expressing condolence to the bereaved families and are bustling to comfort them immediately. So far, Amhara and Oromia states had granted five million birr each, aimed to undertake rehabilitative activities for the survivors.

Addis Ababa City Administration Mayor Driba Kuma said that the Administration had deeply saddened by the accident. He said the City Administration is striving to quickly rehabilitate the survivors and undertake rescue and search activities. Vigorous activities are being undertaken to provide shelter and food to the survivors and bury the dead exhumed during the rescue, he added.

The Mayor said prime significance has been attached to relocating and rehabilitating the survivors. To this end, a task force has been established to coordinate the relief efforts and provide lasting solutions to problems associated with rubbish dumping. The task forces are being chaired by the Mayor and aim to giving speedy response and properly address the problem.

However, survivors have been complaining that the assistance being provided to them is inadequate to meet their demands. In addition, they said “the emergency call to rescue and save our souls, received sluggish response.” As a witness, they said, anyone can understand the time difference between the emergency call at the time of the accident and the time when official operation of rescue was commenced (on Sunday afternoon).

They said they tried to prevent the effects of the rubbish dumping into their residence. Seeing that the huge heap of rubbish dump bulging towards their residence, they had applied to the Mayor’s Office many times so that they would be given alternative sites used to construct houses. However, they alleged that their plea had fallen on deaf ears. The red tape and the lengthy delay resulted in the current disaster, ensuing doom and gloom.

They also claimed the Administration has so many times promised to make the area more salubrious for the residents in the locality. Hence, it agreed to shift the dumping ground elsewhere and allocate more budgets to beautify and regenerate the area.

Some even criticize the government that the current landslide is caused by its indifference to take relevant measures on waste disposal and relocate residents to habitable corners. They further chided the Administration that it does not enforce appropriate policy on waste disposal and (the number of squatter victims witnesses) its land management is messy. Otherwise it might not have kept silent while all the victims go on living in sub-human condition until perishing in an accident.

On the other hand, the City Administration said timely efforts have been carried out to save lives. Currently, more than 65 million birr have been collected from various governmental and non-governmental institutions, including regional states to rehabilitate the survivors. Hence, rehabilitation activities will start soon after identifying the number of dead and undertaking public funeral activities (the administration has donated 10,000 birr to each bereaved family to cover cost of burial).

As part of the endeavour, the Mayor stated, experts from Addis Ababa and Texas Universities are undertaking detailed studies as to how to deal with the rubbish dumping site, recycle the rubbish, generate renewable energy and use it for poverty alleviation and development. (contrary to the gruesome news of death, power plant has been established at Qoshie site, at a cost of 120 million USD. The plant is designed to recycle rubbish dumped in the area and generate 50MW of electricity).

Rigorous investigation is being undertaken to accurately identify the cause of the accident and the exact number of victims. The investigation will reveal the number of people that need urgent assistance, the amount of finance needed to rehabilitation and permanent settlement programme. The investigation will also help dispel rumours and defuse exasperation of bereaved families triggered by fabricated allegations.

Natural and man-made disasters are unpredictable. What matters is building capacity and readiness to deal with disasters and close all recipes of predictable disasters. The nation will continue grappling with the problems and strive to the top of its capacity to alleviate the problems of citizens. Besides, to successfully rehabilitate victims, the community should lend more helping hand to victims and work in collaboration with the government.

If there is life, there is hope. Survivors have continued their struggle to cope with deep grief and misery. The local community and the government are providing daily bread and temporary shelter. Hopes are great that survivors may soon forget their misery and start new life in new habitable home.

©Alleastafrica and The Ethiopian Herald

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