Thursday, July 25, 2024
InterviewSustainability in transforming Ethiopia's infrastructure development landscape

Sustainability in transforming Ethiopia’s infrastructure development landscape

Climate-conscious development has become a crucial aspect of growth in the 21st century. Development endeavors that fail to incorporate mitigation and adaptation approaches risk sustainability issues, among others.

In developing countries like Ethiopia, where public investment in infrastructure remains the main driver of growth, policy measures are essential to imbed climate-conscious project procurement policies in the infrastructure developments.

This was the subject of the ‘National Conference on Climate-Resilient Sustainable Infrastructure’ organized by the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) in partnership with the Ethiopian Association of Civil Engineers (EACE) at the Hyatt Regency in Addis Ababa this week.

The conference focused on Ethiopia’s pursuit of middle-income status through a focus on climate-resilient sustainable infrastructure and operational support, including direct implementation, technical expertise, and transactional assistance, benchmarking against global standards to ensure sustainability and effective delivery. The discussions emphasized Ethiopia’s undertaking of major infrastructure projects, such as the Renaissance Dam, to enhance access to essential social services across the country.

There were critical discussions on strategic, policy, structural, and implementation challenges, as well as innovative solutions, concepts, and best practices contributing to Ethiopia’s sustainable infrastructure development. Participants sought to align these discussions with key national strategies while addressing existing shortcomings.

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Wondimu Seta, a state minister for the Ministry of Urban and Infrastructure, was among the government officials present at the two-day conference underscoring the critical importance of developing climate-resilient sustainable infrastructure for Ethiopia’s future.

The Reporter’s Abraham Tekle converse with Wondimu about the significance of developing a climate-resilient and sustainable infrastructure environment in Ethiopia.

The Reporter: What are the fundamental advantages of fostering a climate-resilient and sustainable infrastructure ecosystem in Ethiopia?

Wondimu Seta: Our primary objective in Ethiopia is to establish a climate-resilient and sustainable infrastructure environment, which serves as the cornerstone for transforming the lives of the general public. This commitment is evident in the completion of numerous mega-scale infrastructure projects prior to the political transition. These projects not only addressed the immediate needs of our society, but also laid the groundwork for the long-term sustainability of our nation.

However, it is crucial to recognize that while pursuing present-day development, we must not compromise the prospects of future sustainability. It is imperative to strike a harmonious balance between development and sustainability, and we have effectively achieved this equilibrium.

All ongoing infrastructure projects have some degree of impact on the surrounding environment, as they require the utilization of local resources. This can be observed in the industrial sector, where the extraction and utilization of raw materials contributes to environmental degradation through high carbon emissions. The construction of these infrastructures has the potential to disrupt various natural conditions and alter the climatic equilibrium.

Therefore, as much as we prioritize development, we must also exercise caution to safeguard the environment from harmful emissions. Our fundamental objective is to strike a delicate balance between development and environmental protection, while working towards future sustainability.

What has been done so far to make this initiative into something tangible?

Our main focus has been on developing an environmental protection policy. However, it has become evident that the environmental protection policy alone is insufficient. Specifically, in the case of the construction sector, which deals with infrastructure development, it is crucial to establish policies that prioritize environmental protection and ensure long-term sustainability. Unfortunately, the existing construction industry policy, which was formulated nearly ten years ago, fails to address sustainability adequately.

We are currently reassessing one of the policies – among the eight pillars that are essential for ensuring sustainability. This is important because environmental concerns and sustainability have emerged as global issues that cannot be ignored, with natural disasters becoming increasingly frequent. For instance, Ethiopia has been facing recurring droughts, which used to occur every ten years but now strike every three to five years.

This process has highlighted the urgent need to address climate change and environmental disasters collectively. In response, we have initiated the green legacy initiative, through which we have successfully planted billions of trees. It is vital to ensure that these efforts have a lasting impact on the environment. We must avoid undermining our achievements by compromising environmental conservation in the pursuit of infrastructure development. To bridge this gap, we are in the process of designing a policy that prioritizes sustainability and aligns with our objectives.

How does your government plan to enhance its procurement system to ensure climate sustainability, considering its multifaceted nature?

One of our typical procurement methods is to select the lowest bid without considering other factors. We have realized that this approach overlooks important aspects such as sustainability and safety, which are crucial, according to the donors’ procurement manual. They emphasize the importance of a safe and healthy environment, which they refer to as “total safety.” We recognize the need to incorporate these considerations into our procurement system.

To address these gaps, we are currently reviewing the procurement decree, which is in the process of being approved. It’s important to note that the decree alone is not sufficient; accompanying regulations and guidelines will also be issued to ensure sustainability. We are actively working towards addressing these concerns, and we believe that once the regulations and guidelines are prepared, they will effectively address all the issues raised in this matter.

What is your strategy for integrating your procurement system with climate resilience and sustainability goals?

We are taking proactive steps to enhance health and safety standards in the construction industry. One of our initiatives involves providing comprehensive training on creating a safe and secure work environment for building contractors and consultants. We are currently in the process of revising the Contractor Registration and Licensing guidelines. We are introducing new criteria for grade-one contractors. They will be required to obtain international certification for health and occupational safety guidelines (ISO-45001).

Our primary focus is to raise awareness about these guidelines, followed by providing the necessary training. By implementing these measures, we aim to make compliance with these guidelines a mandatory requirement for licensing in the future while protecting the environment and fostering a culture of health and safety standards in the sector. 

Are there any new features included? If so, what are they?

There have been significant changes. Previously, the sole focus was on price, which led to compromises in quality and sustainability. It is crucial to reevaluate these aspects comprehensively. Additionally, our procurement policy currently prioritizes local companies, but they face challenges in actively engaging in the process. Therefore, when aiming for international targets, it is important to establish an inclusive environment that allows for their effective participation. We are undertaking a thorough review of the decree, starting from its fundamental principles, in order to adopt a holistic approach that addresses the sector’s challenges.

What are the implications of lacking climate-resilient and sustainable infrastructure in Ethiopia? What measures are being taken to address these challenges and overcome them?

One effective approach is to raise awareness. In the past, there was a prevalent mindset that undervalued the significance of taking immediate action towards developmental endeavors. However, promoting sustainability involves establishing a clean environment, as exemplified by our green legacy initiative. This initiative not only complements other comprehensive initiatives but also adds value to economic strategies and development. By fostering resilience and sustainability, we aim to instill a unique cultural perspective that permeates the entire country, benefiting not only the economy but also various other sectors.

In the pursuit of developing sustainable infrastructure, it is essential to consider various interconnected aspects such as the economy, society, environment, and overall development. With this in mind, what specific plans and policy adjustments do you have for addressing these elements in the future?

Our construction industry policy has been in place for nearly a decade. However, it does not adequately prioritize health and safety in light of the global concerns surrounding these issues. Given that we are now undertaking larger-scale infrastructure projects compared to before, it is crucial to address their significant impact on climate conditions and the contemporary environment. Our approach to constructing buildings and infrastructure aims to ensure their compatibility with the environment and minimize any adverse effects.

To emphasize this commitment, we have incorporated this principle as a fundamental aspect of our country’s construction industry policy, alongside strategic policies and project designs. We have conducted three rounds of training for building contractors to serve as an example and encourage them to adopt this mindset as a cultural norm within the sector. By consistently implementing these measures, we aim to establish a culture within the industry that prioritizes environmental awareness and certification of adherence to these conditions.

Is there international cooperation and support available to assist Ethiopia in addressing climate change and promoting the construction of sustainable infrastructure? If there is, could you provide information on the sources of support and the specific types of assistance being offered?

The World Bank’s transit project has been instrumental in providing support for the development of manuals, regulations, and guidelines related to health, environmental protection, and related issues. Thanks to this support, we now have a comprehensive framework in place, including a training module and a well-organized record of documents. Previously, we faced a challenge in accessing and managing sufficient web-based document records, but with the assistance of the World Bank, we have established a robust system.

How can a sustainable infrastructure project be developed in Ethiopia? What are the economic benefits of implementing such a project in a sustainable manner?

Constructing infrastructure is a crucial response to the developmental needs of both a nation and its society. However, it is equally important to ensure that these infrastructure projects do not harm the environment or contribute negatively to the climate. Therefore, our approach should involve building for the present while considering the preservation of tomorrow.

While the economic benefits of such initiatives are unquestionable, quantifying their impact in concrete terms can be challenging. This difficulty arises because the economic effects often become apparent only in the long run. Additionally, it is essential to have a clear understanding of the term “resilient” since many people misconstrue its fundamental meaning. Resilience simply refers to the ability to adapt to and coexist harmoniously with the environment. Therefore, when we discuss sustainability, it also encompasses the creation of a resilient environment.

Ethiopia is widely recognized for its utilization of hydropower as a means of generating power. Are there any other renewable energy sources being harnessed in the country? If so, what are those alternative sustainable power resources?

Ethiopia predominantly relies on renewable energy sources to meet its power needs, distinguishing itself from other nations that heavily depend on fossil fuels and nuclear energy. Unlike these conventional options, renewable sources such as geothermal and hydroelectric power offer a sustainable solution that aligns with Ethiopia’s commitment to environmental preservation. By prioritizing eco-friendly alternatives, Ethiopia mitigates the adverse impacts associated with non-renewable resources, thereby safeguarding the integrity of its environment for future generations.

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