Rainy days are here and so are the problems that arise with the blocked drainage system in Addis Ababa. It rains a bit, and suddenly, it seems like we have lakes all over the city.
It’s been the same year after year. The flooding in some places is so severe that you have to avoid them. The actual rainy season hasn’t begun yet, but the small showers we have been having on and off for the past couple of months have shown us the preview of what is yet to come.
Increasing urbanization causes problems with increased flash floods after sudden rain. This problem is mostly persistent in cities as areas of vegetation are replaced by impermeable concrete, asphalt or other materials, leading to the ground losing its ability to absorb water. That is where the drainage system comes in. Although the solution is there for rain water that is not absorbed by the ground, the system is mostly overloaded, causing floods.
Mostly, the floods that occur in Addis Ababa don’t affect people’s homes directly, but it does affect the roads that have cost a fortune to repair or to build. Standing water is one of the most well-known elements detrimental to the longevity of roads. Most asphalt roads slowly turn into dirt roads as the water continuously erodes them. In general, drainage systems are not properly utilized in Addis Ababa. Most of the time, the problem occurs because of misuse.
Somehow, we still haven’t learned that drainage systems or sewerage systems are not a place for dumping all sorts of human refuse and waste. It is a simple concept. Only water is supposed to pass through the systems. Otherwise, if garbage is dumped in there, it will simply get clogged. And when it does, water will not be able to pass through, hence causing floods, floods that lead to the deterioration of asphalt roads.
Besides the problems that occur from misuse, there have been defects in design as well. Some roads still lack proper drainage systems; some don’t even have such systems at all.
Coming back to the present, the floods bring along other problems as well, like the unpleasant smell, which at times is quite unbearable. You will feel like you are actually standing in a sewerage or a drainage, and you sort of are.
Sometimes the street floods get so bad that you may not be able to cross the street; or there is basically no other way except crossing over through the dirty water and get wet. Those long plastic boots that farmers usually wear might indeed come in handy, as most probably no other shoe will do.
Ironically, this unfortunate circumstance of water flooding brings with it an unusual job opportunity. This opportunity (don’t laugh!) involves a person carrying over people who do not want to get their feet wet to the other side safely. These imaginative people took it upon themselves to come up with the idea of carrying people and making them pay 50 cents to one birr for the services they provide. I have to say these people have become, in a way, invaluable at this time of the year.
So what could be the solution for this problem? Restructuring the whole drainage system on major roads like the Ring Road is out of the question as it will cost massive amounts of money, and really, the main persisting problem of pooling water has not been observed on these kinds of roads. On the roads such as the Ring Road, there might be pooled water right after it rains but it doesn’t take long for the water to disappear through the drains. It was engineered to perform that way.
The main problem is for the drainage systems that are older and seen around roads that have not gone through a big facelift. These are the drainage systems that are filled with garbage, forcing the water to go back up to the surface, because the route it is supposed to take is blocked.
One obvious solution will of course be educating people to not dispose solid waste in the systems to prevent clogging. Another solution will be reconstructing the whole system, which will probably not be a near-future solution as it will require a lot of money.
As I get ready to buy my plastic boots for the coming rainy days, I hope that some action will be taken to curb flooding problems in Addis Ababa. Soon.