Multimillion dollar project aims at turning dirty river banks of the city into centers of attraction

By Addis Getachew

ADDIS ABEBA – Rivers in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa have become increasingly polluted, but a rehabilitation effort hopes to replenish them.

The capital’s six rivers and streams meander across irregular terrain towards the south or southeast, crossing the capital for a total of over 600 kilometers (373 miles).

Too small to be navigable, too polluted to support life, they can be turned into an aesthetically satisfying area of repose, hopes the city administration.

Introduced two years ago, the five-year Rivers’ Rehabilitation Project has already deployed hundreds to work on cleaning the rivers and river beds.

“The project has been designed to turn the rivers into something people would yearn to spend time at,” says Weredeqal Gebrekirstos, senior public relations officer at the project office.

He told AA that the more than $40 million project should see some of the most degraded river banks rehabilitated.

“We have 14 [initiatives] related to the cleaning, greening, rehabilitation of degraded river banks and a comprehensive study to identify what to do next,” Gebrekirstos said.

‘Liquid wastes’

A recent study conducted by the Center for Environmental Science of the College of Natural Science at Addis Ababa University has found that rivers in the city have become polluted both due to industrial waste leakages and household wastes.

“Addis Ababa is home to more than 2,000 industries, which comprises 65 percent of all industries in the country and most of them, located along the river banks which are mostly found in the western and southern parts of the city, discharge these effluents directly to the river.

As much as 90 percent of these industries do not have any kind of treatment plant and discharge their solid, liquid and gaseous wastes untreated into the environment,” says the study released in March of this year.

“Depositing solid and liquid wastes and dangerous substances in rivers and riversides has been a common practice in Addis Ababa,” it adds.

The study, which focuses on the Akaki River, further claims that people growing vegetables downstream were being affected by the presence of chemical components.

Indeed, near the river, around 390 hectares of land irrigated for vegetables, such as potatoes, were said to show traces of “toxic elements such as zinc, nickel, mercury, copper, cadmium and chromium”.

“For a long time, it has been known that intake of food that contains high levels of heavy metals, poses risks to human health,” adds the study.

When you are over 40 in Addis Ababa, you fondly remember

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Multimillion dollar project aims at turning dirty river banks of the city into centers of attraction

times spent at various riverbanks to swim, to relax, wash clothes, or contemplate the toads.

‘Toxic eyesores’

Now in his mid-forties, Eyob Tadelle, works at the Economic Commission for Africa — a spacious majestic building complex located near the area where he spent most of his childhood, close to the Bulbula river, which crosses through Addis Ababa before flowing southward.

“I witnessed closely how the relatively clean river Bulbula flanking my village gradually became no better than one of the many open-ditch sewage spillways,” he said, a far cry from the “lush green where I, along with my village peers, played football and other games”.

“I believe I am a living witness to how these rivers drastically turned into toxic eyesores,” he said adding they had been long “abandoned” and “abused”.

“I am still an optimist. Restoration is possible if we could rein in the untrammeled consumerism devoid of ecological sensibilities.”

The rehabilitation project has garnered some successes, namely in the greening areas along the course of several rivers and streams, in building constructing walkways as well as in preventing landslides and further degradation.

“Our priority in addition to re-greening denuded areas has been preventing further degradation and landslides by building gabions [wire baskets filled with rocks] and walkways,” project spokesman Gebrekirstos said.

The magnitude of the problem, he said, “is too big to address by the present effort alone,” suggesting other partners, namely the private sector, should chip in. – AA (daily-monitor)