Riversides in Addis Abeba have been a source of worry for residents in their precipices. The areas have been dogged by landslides, pollution and lack of development for ages. But due to a spate of development activities around ten of them, that might change soon.
Henock Gizaw, 33, lives in Arada District, Kebele 14, by the edge of Gordeme (Kurtume) River. He still remembers the horrors of a rainy season three years ago. It started raining hard in the afternoon. As usual, everyone felt the premonition of disaster. Then, the worst happened. One of the houses right by the side of the river gave in and fell into the river.
Inside the house, there were three people, including a seven-year-old child. The young lady who rented the house was about to graduate. Her aunt, her cousin and the child came to celebrate her success. But that was not meant to be. When the water subsided, the neighbours mounted the house and started removing the roof. It was too little, too late, and they were found dead.
The construction of a bridge nearby was partly blamed for it. The earth that was dug during the construction was dumped into the river, choking the flow of the river. As a result, the residents claimed, this led to the river flowing closer to the edge of the houses, and their bases started to erode gradually.
The people who still live in the area remember this traumatic experience with a haunting hunch that the same fate is awaiting them. When it rains hard, Seyoum Bekele, another resident, feels extremely nervous that the house will fall on him.
"My house cracked during the bridge construction. And when I asked the authorities to get it repaired by myself, they told me it was given to me as a temporary shelter. They promised to give me a replacement, but nothing happened," he said. When the Kebele convened them for discussion, they complained to no avail.
Kalkidan Tegegne lives in a rented room with her three little kids and her husband. The Kebele's management told her that they have no solution for people like her. They have told her she can rent somewhere else.
"I would have done that if I could afford it," she said.
Every time it rains hard, her house gets flooded. Then they start to pour the water outside using buckets with all their might. If that will not do, they retreat to their neighbour's house for safety.
"Every year, people from the Kebele come as if to see whether I'm still alive or not," Kalkidan said. "What will be the use of the media and government mentioning of me once I am dead?"
These rivers serve as informal rubbish dumping grounds. Besides, some factories, hospitals, residents and businesses of all kinds discharge their toxic liquid waste in them. They cause health problems as a result, and their stench can sometimes be very suffocating just to pass by on foot or even by car, let alone live around them.
To tackle these phenomena, different riversides development activities are taking place. With a budget of 188.7 million Br, the Addis Ababa Rivers & Riversides Development Project Office (AARRsDPO) has given work to six contractors in six sites deemed critical. The work includes embankments, walkways, roads for cycling, parks, and planting grass and trees.
Furthermore, the Project Office is also in the process of undertaking a riverside project on 24 sites of the capital city with an estimated cost of 100 million Br. It is also doing intervention work in 19 places to curb landslides and flooding, according to Debela Biru, deputy project manager at the Project Office.
As a pilot project, the Office has given cleaning work to 60 associations that have 300 hundred young people within them who have already cleaned 14km of the riversides. It plans to increase the number of people that will participate in the cleaning to 5,000.
"The Office wishes to involve the private sector in developing the areas as well," Debela added.
The riverside projects are being undertaken on the basis of a study by Addis Ababa University's Center for Environmental Science.
The study, which cost the Project Office 34 million Br, was completed in March 2017. It had five thematic areas: city pollution and sanitation, catchment management, socioeconomic impact, design and landscape study, and legal loopholes.
The research found that Addis Abeba rivers and riversides face problems which include: badly polluted segment through direct discharge of domestic waste generated mainly from households and institutions; river bank erosion; and inaccessible rivers and riversides. But it also stated that most areas, 77pc, have a suitable slope for an urban setting.
"Some hospitals save lives at their front doors. But at their back doors, through an improper discharge of their toxic waste that pollutes these rivers and the environment, they cause a lot of public health hazards," Walelegn Dessalegn, AARRsDPO project general manager, said.
Only 27pc of the city's liquid waste is disposed of properly, according to the Office.
AARRsDPO hopes to revive these rivers (Kurtume, Kebena, Bante and Yeketuand) so they become life giving, as opposed to what they are considered right now: life threatening.
The success of the projects is going to have a great impact on the lives of residents near the riversides, on the landscape of the city and the rivers; Kurtume (meaning 'fish' in Oromiffa) River, for instance, will regain fish shoals within its waters, according to Walelegn.
AARRsDPO has also planned to award individuals, companies and institutions that are doing some exemplary work 'as environmental champions' to encourage effective waste management. In other countries, buying or boycotting a company's services or products can be dependent on how friendly it is to the environment.
"The problem is, we don't have a strong culture of naming and shaming that could discourage irresponsible behaviour," Walelegn said.
During the rainy season, the rivers brim with flood water and roar at residents. Tsigereda Abate lives near Bole Michael that borders the Kebena River.
"We wake up because of the noise sometimes and are very alert. When it starts to invade our houses, we first take out some of our stuff to places that will not be breached by the flood," she said.
Nine years ago, a powerful flood uprooted entire houses with their furniture and took them away. The Kebele collected contributions from different individuals and organisations and bought them some furniture, according to Tsigereda.
The District is now building a wall in her neighbourhood after so many pleadings from them.
When all is said and done, time is of the essence to save, especially, human lives around these areas. It is another rainy season, and heavy rain remains the nemesis for Tsigereda and her neighbours who live hanging by the edge of rivers, in most cases, in the heart of Addis Abeba. Like so many people, they say 'Good night' to one another before they go to sleep. But these are not mere wishes; they mean the world for residents of the riversides.