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Waste management; Problem can’t be discarded easily

Waste management; Problem can’t be discarded easily

It seems that the current buzz around climate change is unstoppable. The world ecosystem is crumbling and the environment destroyed. Many places have recently been wrecked by volcanic eruptions, forest fires, floods, earthquakes, drought and other environmental disasters. Climate change may seem a far off concept for developing countries like Ethiopia, but it is not.

Developing countries are one of the most vulnerable to climate change. Many countries in Africa including Ethiopia highly depend on agriculture. This tells that there can be devastating consequences for these countries. Climate change will have key impacts on agriculture, livestock, water and human health in Ethiopia. According to USAID’s report, Ethiopia is one of the world’s most drought-prone countries.

Ethiopia has not been oblivious to climate change. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) has previously led a project, which aims to counter the effects of deforestation and climate change in a drought prone area. The Ethiopian Prime Minister launched a national initiative to plant 350 million trees in a single day, which was called The Green Legacy. According to a UN Report, Ethiopia's forest coverage declined from 35% of its total land in the early 20th Century to a little above 4% in the 2000s.

Even though, Ethiopia accounts for less than 0.1 percent of total global emission, communities are already experiencing the adverse effects of climate change. Communities in different parts of Ethiopia are suffering from great variability and extreme weather events, increased temperature and unpredictable rainfall, a country where 85 percent of farmers are dependent on rain-fed and seasonal agriculture.

Ghazali Ibrahim, cofounder and executive director of Climate action group, says that there are more than enough evidences that climate change is affecting African counties. However, one of the major impacts is food security. He told The Reporter:When we look at African economies that largely rely on agriculture, we can see how rain patterns have become unpredictable”. He continues to explain that vulnerability varies from one place to another, mostly determined by the topography of the environment. With the lowland areas experiencing increased temperatures and prolonged droughts that may affect livestock rearing. The highland areas, on the other hand, may suffer from more intense and irregular rainfall, leading to flooding, erosions, coupled with higher temperature, may result in lower agricultural production, thereby affecting the economy. Furthermore, with increasing population in almost all African countries and conflict in some regions, greater food insecurity may ensue in some areas.

Ibrahim explained to The Reporter that Ethiopia like many other African countries is a signatory of the Paris Agreement. In terms of policies, Ethiopia has been engaged especially at the international level with climate mitigation/adaptation/resilience agenda ranging from the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and Convention to Combat Desertification, all of which had elaborated National Action Plans. Nationally, the Government has developed a program called National Adaptation Program for Action (NAPA) in 2007. In NAPA, the Ethiopian government identified key climate impacts and described 11 priority projects needed to address these impacts. However, majority of the projects were not implemented. In 2010, NAPA was replaced by the Ethiopian Program of Adaptation to Climate Change (EPACC) with the objective of contributing to the elimination of poverty and to lay the foundation for a climate resilient path towards sustainable development. In terms of funding, Ethiopia has secured funding for over 20 projects related with climate change adaptation from donors such as the World Bank Group, Green Climate Fund, Global Environment Facility, BioCarbon Fund Initiative from 2012 to date.

Many African counties encounter the same issues, lots of paper commitment with less translation to action. According to Ibrahim, the major difference between western and African practices in solving such problems lies in three major things: sincerity of purpose, technology and funding. Some African countries in most cases do not even attach much importance to the need for combating climate change. Unless it is recognized and acknowledged, the problem can not be solved. There is also a low level of awareness on the matter by African societies compare to the western world, and handling climate change is not only for governments, rather the masses, especially the youth have critical roles to play. There is therefore a need for sensitization and youth empowerment for serious action. Limited financing and low level of technology are the other factors that affect the issue, he told The Reporter.

According to many studies, climate change is mainly a waste management problem, which makes waste management at least an important factor to consider.

In Addis Ababa, it is a well familiar sight to see garbage collected in random streets that do not get picked up for days, sewages openly leaking to the roads and places hugely accumulated with garbage containing plastics. As for one, this is not a very healthy environment for communities living around these areas. According to reports, it is estimated that in Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia, more than 0.4kg/capita of waste is generated daily, while more than 200,000 metric tons is collected each year. According to the UN, only about 65% of waste generated in Ethiopian cities is collected, the rest being deposited in open sites like drainage channels and rivers. This indeed will directly affect the availability and will limit access to safe and drinkable water. There is no adequate facility to handle such waste being generated daily.

One of the basic waste management problems in Addis Ababa is sewages leaking openly into the environment. The sewage system is poorly constructed that it flows into rivers with people living near the rivers planting vegetables making it a risky for human health. The smell can cause allergies and the vegetables produced on those areas have a high amount of iron. Addis Ababa Water and Sewage Authority (AWSSA) is currently working to solve these problems around the city. Tesfalem Baye, Deputy General of AAWSA, told The Reporter that they are working at expanding the city’s sewage network. The organization is also hoping to decrease the problem by increasing 700 different communal toilers.

Tadessa Abera (MD), Director of Pan Ethiopia (NGO), on his part told The Reporter that waste management generated in Ethiopia does to a very limited extent contribute to climate change; however, it is directly being related to human health. The waste that is collected and not handled well becomes a breeding ground for bacteria that can lead to contamination. However, if the waste is segregated properly and it could be used, if not it can contaminate the soil, water and air.  Tadesse told The Reporter that the infamous koshe, which is the major dump site in Addis Ababa, ignites fire and smoke on its own, which can in a very small amount contribute to climate change compared to developed countries. However, the impact on human health is direct and very harmful. Since the collections of waste in Addis Ababa is not very organized, both hazardous (industrial and pharmaceutical waste) and non-hazardous (household waste) waste is usually mixed when it is collected. This causes major air pollution as well as pollutes the soil and water. This leads to polluting vegetables that the society consumes. Tadessa stressed that unsystematic waste management is directly linked to environment pollution and health issues.

Ethiopia is being attentive to these issues and working towards solutions. One of these is the Climate Resilient Green Economy. This focus on achieving a middle income country by 2025 as well as developing a green economy. The climate resilient green economy strategy also facilitates greater collaboration amongst climate change and economic development in a sustainable manner.

Bearing in mind, climate change will affect African countries harder than other countries in the world, more needs to be done. Starting from waste-management, Ethiopia has a lot more that needs to be done.

There should be involvement of the youth and community at the grassroots level. People need to be enlightened about the dangers of improper waste management and the repercussions of climate change, experts say. And hence, adequate sensitization should be done for the general public especially the local communities. The experts argue this is one of the areas NGOs come in and contribute. For example, the Climate Action Group has been doing that in some countries like Nigeria and is making arrangement to launch such campaign in Ethiopia.

Ed.’s Note: Sesina Hailou is on an internship at The Reporter.

Contributed by Sesina Hailou