13 January 2013

Ethiopia: Is Engineering Precise?

Cars jump in to the newly constructed bridge which is not been fenced-off around Meskel Flower across the Ethio-China Avenue to Bole Rwanda construction caused repeated car accidents.

The ninth graders at Future Talent International Academy had an interesting English assignment recently. They wrote about their concerns regarding the delayed road construction by their school, and then submitted them to Fortune.

They each turned in a one page essay, in well-written English, criticising the project engineers and the government. Some went so far as to identify the engineers and the construction company by name. They put forward accusations of negligence and financial mismanagement and problems, such as; health hazards and traffic congestions. All the papers expressed disappointment with the progress of the work.

In 2007, when the Addis Abeba City Road Authority (AACRA) awarded the construction of the road; from Meskel Flower, across the Ethio-China Avenue to Bole Rwanda, to Hazii Construction and Trading Plc and Core Consulting Company, it was scheduled to be completed by 2010.

Completion, however, looks like a far off dream when looking at the current progress and the two-year completion delay. In the meantime, those in the neighbourhood and the students at Future Talent continue to suffer.

"Besides the dust, excavation and rocks, the road construction does not seem to help anything but untold inconvenience, due to the holes here and there uncover," writes Dagmawi Siraj, in a four paragraph submission for which he scored 10 marks out of 10.

The construction "gave a hard time for all people living in the area and also for people who pass along it wrote Naomi Fekade."

Hana Michael, a sales person who works at Shoppers' Stop Furniture Store, along the mentioned road, speaks of colleagues who were told by doctors that they had developed lung disease as a result of the dust.

Africa Avenue, which was to be constructed on lane at a time, is now completely closed due to a change in plans.

"Our business is also declining day by day, because our customers assume the store does not exist anymore, since it has been demolished several times," she says. "If they cannot manage the road well, why don't they just leave it?"

This is not the only road that AACRA is having problems with. Of the 17 projects it is undertaking in the city, 11 are already passed their due date. According to the data from the Authority, for example, the Akaki-Lebu-Weletie-Suk road project was supposed to be completed in June 2009; however, it is still under construction. AACRA has suspended the original contractor for not delivering on time and is still planning to shift the project to another company.

In most instances, the roads under construction are also a challenge for residents, pedestrians and vehicles. Alternate routes are not accessible and proper signals are virtually nonexistent.

"The delay of the construction [of the Meskel Flower, Ethio-China Avenue to Bole Rwanda road project] occurred because AACRA could not handover the project, due to the slow handling of rights of way issues and a remake of the original design," says Zakir Ahmed, general manager of Hazii construction.

Hazii is also still working on the Ayer Tena-Tatek-Ambo road construction, which it should have delivered by June 2012.

AACRA points its fingers at its own shortage of human resource, and liquidity problems by the contractors, according to Ahmedin Buser, contract road construction and supervision head at AACRA. One design problem, encountered on this road, was when the idea for a cross road was changed to an overpass, because of traffic congestion that was noticed once construction was already underway.

However, the process of redesigning took about two years and caused the delay, according to Zakir.

"The delay also caused a financial burden to the company," he says.

The delay in the redesign happened because it did not have enough professionals to evaluate the new design, said Ahmedin.

"The major reason for the problems in the road construction is the lack of expertise," comments Asaye Desta, manager of AXULAL Consulting Engineers. "How can a junior staff member evaluate a billion Birr project design?"

The Authority also agrees with the expert.

"Since the salary is not that attractive, the engineers do not stay long," says Ahmedin. "Currently, we are hiring new engineers for the position so that we can improve the problem."

According to him, one of the major problems for the delay of most projects in the city is the lack of a responsible body in each district, to facilitate the right of way issues. As result there are holdups in construction when the time comes to demolish houses, in order to make way for road construction.

"They do not have alternative houses for those to be demolished on the roads, since most of them are kebele houses," says Ahmedin.

The Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) states that it is working on restructuring the implementing agencies, improving capacity development in the road sector, as well as financing and safety measures, in order to bring about change. In addition, the institutional framework and organisational capacity of the regional road agencies and wereda road bureaus will be strengthened by; human resource development, strengthening integrated road work planning and improving the effectiveness of road maintenance.

However, there should be a research institute that facilitates construction, whilst being transparent, with regards to information requested by the public, comments Asaye. This also minimises the conflict between stakeholders on the rights of way issues, according to him.

"How can we expect a development that destroys others?" he asks.

Africa Avenue (Bole Road) is another project, which was modified along the way, leading to a near total closure of the road. It was originally envisaged to be completed one lane at a time, with one left remaining open to traffic. Suddenly the project period was cut in half and both lanes were closed, in order to finish construction within a year's time.

The reason being due to the hastening of road construction, in order to finish before the African Union meeting, to be held in Addis Abeba this June, 2013, according to Ahmedin.

As a result, traffic jams are happening on the narrow alternative roads and businesses are slowing down, or being closed altogether.

Lack of proper road signs at a roundabout made at Meskel Flower-Rwanda road is also contributing to car accidents at the site, according to locals. But that is not the only construction site lacking in signs.

"Not providing signs for substitute roads and closed roads, ignoring to communicate to people and not giving due attention are simply poor management of construction, and it shows a complete disregard of professionalism and also lack of respect for the people," Assaye says. "This cannot happen in the United States, cannot happen in England and therefore should not happen here in Ethiopia."

Many are left wondering the same thing as Niana Nuredin, another ninth grader at Future Talent, who says: "Is engineering precise?"

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