The State of the Neighbourhood


Following last week’s article “The State of Addis Ababa”, we will now go back to our neighbourhood and compare what we see with some of the conclusions and recommendations of the comprehensive assessment of the state of the city. But before we do so let us first recall some of the observations made in the “State of Addis Ababa” report.
The urban economy does not offer a sufficiently broad spread of job opportunities for different skill levels.
The production of condominium housing has been successful in increasing the city’s housing stock and improving the physical urban environment through slum reduction. These efforts, however, have been rendered less effective than anticipated as the housing offered is not affordable to the 20% of the city’s residents with incomes below the poverty line.
Although access to health and education services has increasingly improved, improving quality remains a huge challenge, particularly in new settlements where former inner=city residents have been relocated.
Despite continuous efforts by the city government to promote better transportation services, access to efficient and affordable transportation and mobility remains problematic with high transaction costs and inconvenience to the majority of the city’s residents, particularly for those relocated to peri-urban zones under the urban renewal programme.
The one victim of rapid and unplanned urban growth has been the urban environment, which has a huge impact on public health as well. Air and water pollution are exceeding acceptable standards with negative consequences for the health of the city residents. The major sources of air and water pollution include the use of old cars, the use of charcoal for cooking and heating purposes, as well as the lack of proper sewage and dry waste management.
With respect to solid waste, the city administration will need to introduce best practices such as waste separation, compost production, recycling and re-use. Moreover, water pollution needs to be tackled by regulating and controlling discharges from both houses and factories. Communities themselves could be mobilised for monitoring activities to preserve the river and river banks.
Addis Ababa’s green areas and the urban ecosystem remain far below desirable standards. The scarce green areas and poor ecosystem in the city negatively affect pollution mitigation, run-off regulation and the provisioning of clean water.
Now, I sometimes walk around in the neighbourhood. Sometimes to buy something from the local grocery or on a Sunday morning to get some fresh air. When I walk out of the alley, the first thing that always catches my eye is the amount of waste and litter that is lying around. Plastic bottles, plastic bags, bones from a slaughtered sheep or cow, sometimes even the head. Much of the waste ends up in the sewage system which glogs up and loses its purpose. The sewage finds its way through the street, spreading a bad smell (so much for the fresh air I wanted to breath), ending up irrigating a small urban vegetable garden. I must watch out because some manholes are open or its lid is broken and one can easily fall in, especially in the dark. I have been told that some 40 people or so end up falling into an open manhole every month, some of them seriously injuring themselves.
A bit further down the main road, a group of boys have blocked half of the road with some stones and are playing football. They are excited and fully occupied with their game. The ball bounces over to the other side of the road and an oncoming car honks angrily at the boy who sprints after the ball to retrieve it.
For a while already there was information going around the neighbourhood that one of the roads is earmarked for widening. One morning, a bulldozer arrived and began breaking and digging up the asphalt road which normally allowed us to ease our way out of the area on the way to work. In a few days, the entire road was dug up and I was expecting road construction to begin anytime soon. Not so. Nothing has happened ever since. Instead the neighbourhood is left in a big mess. Parking became a problem; small cars have a problem passing through and you need some serious hiking gear to climb your way up through the dirt to enter the shops along the road. It was also decided recently that the alley leading to my residence was to be upgraded with cobblestones. A welcome development indeed. Then, one morning, we were surprised to see that the alley was blocked with a huge heap of selected materials, dumped by a truck earlier that morning, meant to provide the foundation for the cobblestone. It took quite some initiative from the residents to have some of the materials removed to allow some passage of sort. No information or communication whatsoever. The material was dumped without considering the consequences for the residents. The following day, a bulldozer came to spread the materials and it looked like progress was being made to improve the state of the alley indeed. Until it began to rain. The surface of the road was now higher than the compound of most residences, so that rain water can no longer find a way out. A true waterbody has now accumulated in my compound making it difficult to open and close the gate. No further works have followed since and we wonder when the project will see its completion, with or without a drainage system.
The city indeed 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, manage their growth and make them more efficient and sustainable. The challenge however is to plan for it in a proactive and coordinated way, providing information to the public and taking the interests and inconveniences of the citizens into consideration.
I can’t help thinking that it should not be too difficult to address some of these issues, both by the authorities and the public. Better planning, maintenance, communication, information and awareness will go a long way in improving the neighbourhood indeed.