In an attempt to keep fit, I sometimes go jogging along the streets in our neighbourhood. As I make my way, I often pass small groups of boys playing street football.
One of them will usually call out to me and say something, like “bravo” or ask me where I am going. “Mojo” I will answer. Another will ask what my name is and I will reply “Haile” or “Kenenisa” and we all have a laugh. This happens typically on a Sunday morning when many youngsters are trying to have a ball game with each other and where else can they go other than to the streets, as green areas and playgrounds are hardly included in the city development plans. I leave the boys to their game and continue, passing women sitting on the ground, selling some vegetables. Next, I meet some shoe shiners who offer to polish my shoes, knowing very well that I have on sneakers and have no intention of cleaning them now. Then the beggars will spot me from a distance and hold up their hands, not accepting that I carry no change while I am sweating away.
What I find interesting when walking or jogging along the streets is that I see everything from a different perspective than when I am behind the steering wheel of my car.
If driving is not always easy going around town, walking is more difficult. There are hardly any sidewalks. You really have to watch out because you may easily trip over stones, rocks, construction materials or anything for that matter, left for no apparent reason. The next danger is open manholes, which are especially treacherous. A good friend of mine fell into one after parking his car and walking to a restaurant where we were supposed to meet. No dinner that evening as his leg was badly hurt and his trousers smelt like … exactly. Where there are no sidewalks or where you have to make your way onto the road and around the heaps of gravel and sand of a construction site, chances are high that you will be brushed aside by careless drivers of cars and minibuses cruising by, paying little or no attention to pedestrians, even honking to get them out of the way. This becomes especially tricky at zebra crossings, where you have to risk your life to get to the other side of the road instead of being given the right of way by motorists.
Suddenly a foul smell flows into my nostrils. The sewage system can’t handle the flow as it is clogged with all sorts of solid waste, thrown into the gaping openings, which should have been small enough to act as a filter instead, allowing only liquid matter to enter. At places, the sewage system is simply open or a small stream flowing through town is used as such. The stench is unbearable, while multi-million birr mansions are built along the banks of the brook. A few hundred meters on, I have to swirl around solid waste containers, placed on the sidewalk, forcing me to get back onto the road again. The containers are overflowing with all kinds of stuff, much of it strewn on the ground, while youngsters are busy fishing out some items for re-use, like plastic bottles for example. Effective solid waste management is still far from reality. Street dogs scavenge around the containers as well, posing serious health risks to anybody passing by.
Almost home again, I look forward to the last straight leg and a refreshing shower. I have to be careful though as over the past few weeks the water ran dry and we are left with only a little stored in the tank.
There are many new, beautiful houses in our neighbourhood built around the block with access roads that don’t match the investments. Mud pools during the rainy season, dusty thereafter. In some residential areas house owners join hands and upgrade their roads to asphalt, which immediately improves the image of the neighbourhood and the value of their houses.
Back in my car, as I drive from my house into town, I pass another neighbourhood to be. Here condominiums are constructed at high speed and I try to imagine what it will look like when completed. Thousands of people will reside in these apartment blocks, all producing waste, all needing water and sanitation. I find the prospect a bit worrying given the fact that the development of much of the required infrastructure seems to lag behind the mushrooming of the so called condos. More than 30,000 condominium houses have already been constructed and handed over and another 71,000 or probably more are under construction. Allow for five persons per household and we arrive at half a million residents needing not only the comfort of their apartment but all the infrastructure that goes with it, including water, energy, sewage, solid waste management, roads, transportation, health services, green areas and playgrounds, all of which will undoubtedly have been included in the master plans of the city and regional towns. What concerns me is the actual implementation and the order in which work is carried out. When I look at the billboards along the construction sites of new residential areas, I see colourful and beautiful houses with spacious parking and a few happy residents walking along pavements and generous green spaces in between. After the construction is completed, the houses are there alright, excluding the infrastructure I was made to believe would be developed.
The city faces serious challenges of growth and management. There are issues of potential overcrowding, congestion, insufficient infrastructure and inadequate provision of services, which if not handled adequately will negatively affect social-economic development. Urban planning is key, together with the capacity to organize the city and regional towns to manage their growth and make them more efficient and sustainable.
There have been positive developments in terms of providing housing for families of various income groups and in terms of widening major roads in the city. Effective and efficient infrastructure will improve the quality of life and enhance social and economic development.