16 December 2012

Ethiopia: Environmental Paradox


The Ethiopian Constitution, from its birth, is known for its famous Article 39. Though this article gives the document its peculiarity, there are silent provisions that have not drawn too much attention so far.

Though Addis Abeba, the economic and political capital of the country, obtains its fair share of protection under the Constitution that recognises the right to clean and healthy environment, it still remains far from being comfortable for life. The city remains living under the disgusting odors of pollution.

Faced with the outcomes of polluting acts,Ethiopiahas introduced many international treaties and local laws on environmental protection in the second half of the 20th century. These, at first, did not mention human rights in relation to environmental protection. But since the 1970s, the links between human rights and the environment have progressively been recognised.

One rampant polluting element in Addis Abeba is noise. It can be defined as an unwanted or undesired sound. Usually, 80 decibels is the level at which sound becomes physically painful, and can be termed as noise.

Although part of the basics of city life, construction of buildings and highways causes lots of noise, pneumatic hammers, air compressors, bulldozers, loaders, dump trucks and pavement breakers are the major sources of noise pollution in construction sites across the city.

Excessive noise is not only a source of displeasure but hazardous to the healthy life of residents. The first and foremost effect of noise is a decrease in efficiency at work places. Research has proved that human efficiency increases with noise reduction while too much of it disturbs the rhythms of working, thereby affecting the concentration required for undertaking a task.

Besides the fatigue it causes, mainly as a result of lack of concentration, people need to devote more time to completing their task. This furthers the fatigue. Thus, noise pollution affects both the health and behaviors of human beings.

Furthermore, high noise levels can contribute to negative cardiovascular effects in humans, a rise in blood pressure, and an increase in stress and vasoconstriction, and an increased incidence of coronary artery disease. Chronic exposure to noise may cause noise-induced hearing loss.

A research conducted by Spanish researchers in 2005 found that, in urban areas, households are willing to pay approximately four Euros per decibel per year for noise reduction. In addition, the cognitive status of children sent to schools that are in close proximity of highways is found to be less in comparison to those learning in quieter surroundings.

This was evident in another study wherein the heart beat of children staying in noisy surroundings was measured. The result shows the heart beat of the children living in the less noisy environment to be more than that of their peers in noisy areas. The causative factor, the sudden abnormal changes in blood pressure, is found to increase the likelihood of cardiovascular diseases in the long run.

As a result of these scientific findings, people started to see that a clean and healthy environment is essential for the realisation of fundamental human rights such as the right to life, personal integrity, family life, health and development as all human beings depend on protecting the environment as the resource base for all life.

What started with mere linking of acknowledged human rights to cases of environmental disruption, like theBhopalandChernobyldisasters, become more acknowledged over the years. It all goes to an extent of accepting the inherent relationship between human rights and the environment.

The latest perspective takes healthy environments as a human right. And the right, demands for the environment to not only be clean but also healthy.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) suggests that healthy noise levels should not surpass 55db during the day and 45db at night, but measurements taken in major cities across the world regularly hit 70db or even 80db. A study, by the Organisation, claims that the noisiest cities of the world areNew York,Tokyo,NagasakiandBuenos Aires, in that order.

Our fair city is on the same path as the thriving Ethiopian economy is resulting in more cars on the already crowded roads, and an increase in construction work, besides the noisy door-to-door ads assisted with loud speakers. The untimely noise from the churches and mosques together with rampant loud speaker music from music shops contribute to the problem in the city.

The City's poor urban planning plays its own role to the rising noise pollution. Certainly, placing industrial and residential buildings side-by-side can result in noise pollution in the residential areas.

The problem of noise pollution in Addis Abeba stands against the basic constitutional rights. And alleviating the problem means enforcing the right to healthy environment.

Ironically, the sources of these problems have an equal constitutional backing. For instance, the noise pollution caused by the construction industry is protected by the right to development, while the noise from churches and mosques is protected by the freedom of religion that has a constitutional basis.

Even the loud ads causing noise pollution have constitutional grounds. Therefore, controlling the noise pollution in the city cannot be asserted based on simply the right to healthy environment as the other side of the interests too had equally legitimate grounds, sometimes with even more strong grounds like the right to development that needs to be given priority, at least according to the reality.

This clash of rights needs a rather assertive debate. It ought to see both legal and practical scrutiny.

Of course, the city's administration has issued laws to regulate noise pollution but enforcing it remains a job left undone. The civil code, under Article 1,225, also restricts one from creating nuisance to his neighbors. But, with the rights clashing, it is only rarely that such a scrutiny exists.

Left unresolved, the clash may drive the cost left to inefficiency in the city high. That, however, is undesirable for residents.

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