Koshe tragedy could happen again

 People question disaster’s cause

A few minutes before the landside occurred at a dump killing over 113 people in Kose, a middle aged woman named Wede was washing her two daughters, a seven and one year old. Suddenly there were loud screaming sounds that became more and more intense and she told her husband to check and see what was happening. He went outside but he never returned. The landslide threw debris ten meters in the air and then covered her 650 birr a month rental house killing her husband and two daughters. Because it was night and there was no power survival became even less possible. However, Wede was very lucky and managed to survive and make it to Alert Hospital for treatment.

While Capital visited her in the hospital on Wednesday afternoon she did not know that her family was dead although she knew they were missing.

“I do not remember what was happening when the dump swallowed our house, I didn’t see my children or my husband. It was like the end of the world. It was night, I heard only shouting and crying,” she said.

Children doing their homework, pregnant women, old people and babies died in the trash landslide and unexpectedly said goodbye to this world.

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Abune Argwai, an Orthodox church near Koshe held a mass funeral ceremony. From Monday through Wednesday 76 corpses were buried in a row and the priests tried hard to comfort the mourners.

Today, one week later, rescuers are still digging through hundreds of tons of muck, soaking garbage, and poisonous gasses to find anybody buried in the dump.

The actual death toll will never be known, because officials have no idea how many people were living alongside the dump, near Koshe. Local residents say many are still buried under the rubbish, while local officials put the number at just 113.

People have responded by trying to help the 340 survivors sheltered around the Klofe Keranyo Youth Center in Ayer Tena. They have brought food, clothing and donated money. MIDROC Technology Group which is owned by Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi gave 40 million birr to the victims. Support from others has continued to flow in.

Since the incident occurred there has been much discussion. Some have wondered why people were allowed to live in a trash dump while others were wondering how they could help. For the last 50 years Koshe served as waste dumping site for the Addis Ababa people and at least 4,000 tons of waste is thrown in this 36 hectare plot daily. Plastics make up a majority of the trash.

Last August the local authority tried to close the site and relocate dumping at a new landfill site located at Sendafa. This would cost one billion birr. However, opposition by local farmers caused the rubbish collectors to move back to Koshe.

Around 50 years ago when most outskirts of Addis Ababa were covered by trees, no one was living in Koshe, only dead animals were thrown in there. During the Derge regime to protect disabled people from isolation they were given land around Zenbe Worke which is near Koshe.

One resident said that an association known as Kesotch Mehaber founded by 100 people was given land in Koshe and built homes there. Later, however, people began coming and building illegal houses in the area. Many of these sprang up there but not much was done to stop it.  Residents say there are around 200 illegal houses near the dump.

Years ago Kolfe Keranio Sub- tried to move people living legally near to the dump site by covering their house rent if they agreed to move to another area but the people rejected the idea because many had leprosy and felt more comfortable living around people similar to them.

“We are affected by leprosy and for the long time we have been living with people with the same problem if we go somewhere we may face discrimination, If you need to move us let us live together”, one resident said.

In January 2014, Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCo) signed a USD 120 million contract with Cambridge Industries, a United Kingdom based firm, to generate 50 megawatts of electricity from the garbage.

The project is ready to begin but residents claim that trucks working on the project were digging into the dump and pushing waste into houses and also aggravating a bad odor coming from the trash.

Mayor Driba Kuma has been busy in visiting Koshe victims for the last week. He did not speculate about the cause of the incident. He said the administration is working with Addis Ababa University and the University of Texas to determine the cause of the landslide.

“We are now focusing on finding dead bodies and giving temporary shelter and food to the victims, we will provide housing for the victims. For the time being we do not have many opinions about the incident and will determine something after the study is completed. We need to work hard to move people who are living legally in vulnerable areas,” he said.

For the young man like Zelalem who is a dweller in Koshe, allowing illegal homes and not moving people out is a big problem.

“Previously most homes were legal but now the scenario is changing, unknown people who migrate come here and build a house in the dump site and no regulatory body comes to stop them. Then they form a community and have children. Sometimes they build mud homes in the dump and sell them for up to 30,000 birr even though they don’t actually own the land and have no right to do this,” he said.

“If you look at the tents which the government prepared for the victims who lost their homes in the dump landslide, a majority of them are people who built houses illegally and we only know 17 houses are legal which were lost in the accident. Others are getting into the temporary shelter to get money and houses,’’ he added.

Zelalem further added that Koshe is overfilled with waste.

“The dump in here has so much trash that it pushed forward to the houses living in here as you saw it killed hundreds it may kill more people if the city administration does not stop throwing trash in here,” he said.

A recent study by Addis University showed that many areas in Addis Ababa are vulnerable to flooding or earthquake and what happened on March 11 in Koshe could happen again. Hundreds of thousands of people are living in risky places for disasters like Kotebe, Ketecehene, Ferencay,  Zenebework, Hanamariam, Ayertenna, Kolfe, Shero Meda. For the last 12 years the Addis Ababa administration has constructed 130,000 condo houses but the current demand is more than one million. Poor people, especially those migrating from rural areas choose to live in slums. Some of them build houses illegally and do not have an ownership title. Planners predict the current population of three million in Addis Ababa will  be more than double by 2040 and reach  8.1 million which means more people will live in slums if there is not adequate housing.

Economists like Dr Tekae Araya says migration and increasing population are not problems because they help development. However weak regulation means more homes in risky places.

“Urbanization is everywhere and migration helps us to get labor and potential people in every field.  People should live in safe places, however. If someone steals a purse and is caught by the police, they will be brought to court and we should do the same thing when people build houses illegally. If we do not do this more people will live in unsafe places. At the same time we need to construct more homes,” he said.