The precarious state of Ethiopia’s and AA’s roads


Ethiopian roads and especially those found in the capital city of Addis Ababa have been suffering from damages primarily due to lax construction management (construction material handling and waste disposal) laws which directly impact on the road drainage systems, causing road flooding problems and premature road pavement failure.

An engineer who has been designing roads for years says if the problem is not addressed seriously it could cost Ethiopia dearly.

Manaye Ewunetu (Dr.) a Chartered Engineer, Environmental and Water Resources Manager, and Owner and Managing Director of ME Consulting Engineers UK Ltd based in London says that lack of periodical road drainage maintenance is threatening the viability of Addis Ababa city’s road infrastructure.

He says he witnessed similar problems in Awassa and Bahir Dar.

“Construction material handling and waste disposal activities like dumping gravel, sand and excavated materials on the side of the public roads which clog the drainage inlet system are resulting in road flooding and causing considerable inconvenience to the public as well as economic losses,” say Manaye adding that road drainage problems can also partly be caused by capacity problems (under designed drainage systems).

Manaye said that due to lack of proper periodic maintenance of the city’s drainage systems, their water carrying capacities have been reduced considerably and they have also become places of dumping garbage and sewage disposal by people living nearby. The reduction in channel section, due to dumping of garbage and siltation has also reduced the discharge capacity of the local watercourses causing backwater flooding.

Manaye further stressed that in the absence of regular cleaning and de-silting, the drainage channels have been filled up to a considerable depth rendering acute flooding problem of the roads and adjoining areas.

Another issue Manaye raised was regarding Land Use Management which he said could mitigate road and property flooding problems like the use of green fields which can be used for both recreational and flood control systems as well as pollution control mechanism while also recharging the ground water.

Manaye also said that historically in the UK and most of the developed world, urban storm water problems have been addressed using systems (drains, sewers and watercourses) to dispose of excess storm water runoff as quickly as possible away from urban areas in particular, to points where it is no longer believed to be a problem.

However, Manaye said that the realization over the last century that urban storm water disposed of in this way can lead to problems downstream due to high flows, flooding, watercourse erosion, pollution and consequential ecological impacts, has led to the development of alternatives to piped and channeled drainage systems that try to more realistically replicate the natural physical, chemical and biological processes of evaporation, transpiration, filtration, detention and dispersion.

This type of system is known as Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SUDS) that Manaye proposes to be implemented in Ethiopia.

But the biggest problem raised was regarding a city’s drainage master plan (taking the whole catchment into consideration) which can’t be seen in isolation to road drainage infrastructure.

Manaye stressed that for a big city like Addis Ababa, a drainage master plan along with a drainage policy guideline is required to manage urban flooding and to protect the city’s infrastructure from premature failures.

“One often overlooked issue is the issue of disposal of waste from high density developments, including commercial, industrial and institution, especially those that are in a congested area or on built up areas like in condominiums,” said Manaye adding that septic tanks while being suitable for rural areas are inadequate for such scenarios and sustainable sewer systems are needed so that the waste doesn’t overflow to main roads causing environmental damages.

A solution he and his company are proposing is a self-packaged treatment system with regard to residential development related waste while a proposal to prepare a wastewater master plan for Addis had also been previously presented to the Ministry of Urban Works and Development (MoUWD).

Existing sewer infrastructure surveys using underground CCTV cameras have also been proposed to investigate and fix problems related to the clogging of sewerage system blocked by items such as dry household disposals and industrial wastes.

Manaye surmised that a Lack of clear Policy to Persecute Offenders (those illegally dump garbage into the drainage system) is also an impediment and that law enforcement officials should have a range of powers available to them, particularly to the police, the road and the city authorities, to prosecute road drainage offenders.

ME Consulting is based in UK and has been providing clients, in UK, Ethiopia and other countries in Africa, with expert advice and technical assistance on urban drainage design, wastewater management planning, railway and road drainage design, water resource management and flood risk policy guidance development.

Fekade Haile (Eng.) General Manager of Addis Ababa city Roads Authority while addressing a press conference the previous week on the Authority’s last 21 year performance   admitted that problems persists with the state of roads in Addis even those that have been recently inaugurated.

He however said that the city’s residents need to have an ownership sense for the roads and be a guardian to it particularly in regards to rubbish strewn in the streets and clogging the roads and drainage systems of the city.

Other problems mentioned by AACRA were regarding issues of border demarcation with regards to road projects sometimes overlapping with road side construction projects as well as problems with shoddy cobblestone works and disposal of solid homes and industrial wastes on the city’s numerous road inlet systems.

However Fekade said although policies and guidelines can be made and are being made regularly on the protection and maintenance of the city’s asphalt roads the main task will be on educating the population to safeguard the roads built by the taxpayers’ money.