By Mekonnen Teshome Tollera – Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa (Sheger) was born twice: first, as a crowded city; and then again, as a beautiful Sheger with clean rivers, public spaces and parks, bicycle paths and walkways along the riverside.
The city of 4.6 million people is being born again as a result of a multimillion dollar project “Beautifying Sheger” intended to decorate Addis Ababa. This 29 billion birr (about $1.028 billion), rivers and riversides development project is slowly making the city green as works for developing and rehabilitating the two rivers in the city launched in February 2019 progress.
The project, an initiative of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia, is expected to be completed within three years and has created job opportunities for hundreds of Ethiopians and some Chinese too. The project is running along two of the largest rivers of the city, stretching a total of 51 kilometres, all the way from the mountains of Entoto through the city to Akaki River.
The commissioner of Addis Ababa Environmental Protection and Green Development Commission, Alem Asefa says: “As an adaptation to climate change the riverside project will install water-permeable pavements to better deal with floods and storm water and improve water storage and use.”
The Changing Addis Ababa climate
Impulsive changes in climate including rising heat waves, drought and flash floods in Addis Ababa are negatively impacting natural resources and city productivity. A recent study by Open Access: “GIS based quantification and mapping of climate change vulnerability hotspots in Addis Ababa” confirmed that the city “…is vulnerable to climate change impacts…”
“The degree of vulnerability is underpinned by the interaction of multiple factors mainly adaptive capacities of sub-cities, location based characteristics and changes in climatic parameters,” it accentuates.
Alem Asefa, Commissioner of Addis Ababa Environmental Protection and Green Development Commission, told InfoNile in Addis Ababa that scientific projections suggest that the city will face enormous challenges of climate change unless necessary measures are taken to significantly reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases.
Alem further explained: “If abusing the city master plan, especially the urban green component and emissions of greenhouse gases, including those from transport and industry are not controlled in the coming years, continued growth of their atmospheric concentrations is projected to result in severe climate change.”
According to the commissioner, the most important anthropogenic influences on climate in Addis Ababa and neighbouring areas are the emissions, changes in land use, such as urbanization and agricultural activities.
Enabling Addis Ababa adapt to climate change
The rivers and riversides development project aims at curbing the serious environmental effects of pollution and habitat degradation of rivers through planning, design and management of riverside areas. Commissioner Alem says greening is recommended for containment and abatement of air pollution in urban-industrial environment.
“Carbon is sequestered in the process of plant growth as carbon is captured in plant cell formation and oxygen is released during photosynthesis. Branches, leaves and other materials that fall to the forest floor may store carbon until they decompose,” noted Alem.
Additionally, he said, “forest soils may sequester some of the decomposing plant litter through root and soil interaction,” as he related greening efforts with adapting climate change. Optimally designed green belts can be effective in reducing the impact of fugitive emission and pollutants accidentally or otherwise released at ground levels.
Alem says in addition to energy-efficient technologies in transport, industrial sectors, and buildings and development of green infrastructures including green development will help Addis Ababa mitigate climate change.
Polluted rivers of Addis Ababa
A number of research results from university academic and research institutions show that rivers of Addis Ababa are highly polluted due to congested residential houses and manufacturing industries’ presence around the water bodies.
For example, an assessment study on the water chemical content of the Akaki river published by Research Gate (2017) – “Pollution Status of Akaki River and Its Tributaries (Ethiopia) Evaluated Using Physico-Chemical Parameters, Major Ions, and Nutrients,” indicates that the water quality of the TAR shows pattern of behavior linked to anthropogenic sources with the intensity of human pressure associated with industrial effluent, domestic wastes and agricultural activities.
As the issue is a matter of high concern, the government in collaboration with local and international institutions is also making efforts to further analyze the water pollution and take necessary measures against polluter industries like leather tanneries and chemical industries.
Director of India Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) Mrs. Sunita Narain recently told this reporter in New Delhi that CSE has launched chemical analyses of the Akaki River, a river in central Ethiopia, to identify the concentration of heavy metals in the river and present recommendations on the possible solutions. Residential wastes, sewage flowing into the river and the disposal of single use plastic material are some of the major polluting factors of rivers in Addis Ababa.