First we would like to express our deepest condolences on the death of over 100 citizens in last week’s rubbish landslide in Addis Ababa at the Repi landfill, also known as Koshe. We hope their loved ones and all Ethiopians find solace at this difficult time. This national tragedyunderscores the imperative to address certain fundamental issues concerning the safeguarding of the nation and its people from natural and man-made disasters. The citizens of Ethiopia are entitled to constitutionally enshrined protection from risks to their health, residence and the environment. Article 14 of the constitution stipulates that every person has the inviolable and inalienable right to life,the security of person and liberty. The catastrophe exposes the prevalence of gross negligence on the part of the authorities in this regard.
The Repi dump site was closed in 2016 following the opening of a new landfill in the nearby town of Sendafa. However, it recommenced operation after the Sendafa landfill suspended operation as a result of the violent unrest that erupted in the Oromia regional state. Previous landslides at Koshe have led to the loss of lives and injuries, albeit at a smaller scale. The inability of the relevant government agencies to take timely steps aimed at thwarting the occurrence of more fatal incidents is proof of gross negligencethat resulted in one of if not the deadliest calamityof its sort in Ethiopia’s history.
Meanwhileseveral persons died days after the landslide because no one was able to dig them out of the tons of waste they were buried under. Local residents were forced to use shovels, picks and even their bare hands in a desperate attempt to get their loved ones out of the mound of rubbish on account of the failure to mount an effective rescue operation by deploying promptly emergency personnel and the necessary machinery to the site. Given that the accident occurred during the evening it is impossible to determine for sure how many people were at the vicinity at the time. Though some reports suggest that the figure stands at 150, at least 113 are known to have died. Many are still missing, raising fears that the death toll could increase. The woeful lack of preparedness observed before and after the disaster is a sad reminder of the absence of national capacity in terms of forecasting and managing emergencies.
In the first place no one ought to be allowed to build a house at a site that poses health and safety hazards. The municipal administration should not have turned a blind eye when people made a living byrummaging through garbage for items they can use and sell or erect permanent residences at the landfill despite the emission of the dangerous greenhouse gas methane from there. According to the Solid Waste Management Proclamation No.513 /2007each urban administration must, in conformitywith the relevant federal environmental standard, ensure that solid waste disposal sites are constructed and properly used, subjected to environmental auditing as per the relevant law, and has had an environmentalimpact assessment according to the relevantlaw. The proclamation further stipulates that the owner of any solid waste disposal site shall, regardless of fault, be liable for any damage caused to the environment, human health or property in the course of its operation and after its closure. Have these provisions ever been strictly enforced? We need an answer. As acknowledged by the legislation economically and sociallybeneficial assets can be created out of solid waste. It is therefore quite frustrating to see such a resource occasion the loss of human lives instead of being used for purposes that have socio-economic benefits.
One of the crucial obligations of a government is to assure the safety of citizens. A critical component of this duty is the enhancement of national disaster prevention and response capacity. It was undoubtedly imprudent to be blithe about the perils of overstraining a landfill which has been in use for more than five decades. Though the short-lived Sendafa landfill was hoped to replace Koshe, the designation of an alternative dump site would have helped avert the calamity. Encouraging private investment in solid waste management, collection, and disposal should also been undertaken by city officials in fulfillment of the obligation as set out in the solid waste management law. Responding promptly to the frequent expression of concern by local residents and seeking the appropriate solutions was another step that should have been taken as well. While efforts to rehabilitate the survivors with assistance provided by various sections of the society are underway it is mandatory to put in place posthaste long-term solutions. As we have reiterated time and again transparency and accountability in the conduct of the affairs of government are vital in ensuring it duly discharges its duty. It’s at difficult times like these that gross negligence are exposed.