Wednesday, March 22, 2017

As Trash Avalanche Toll Rises in Ethiopia, Survivors Ask Why - The New York Times


A funeral service last week for victims of a garbage landslide in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. At least 113 people were killed in the March 11 collapse, according to the government. CreditMulugeta Ayene/Associated Press

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — At the moment when she lost her home and family, Hanna Tsegaye was spending her Saturday night with a neighborhood friend.
Around 8 p.m. on March 11, Ms. Hanna, 16, heard a strange sound, like rushing wind, and felt the ground shake beneath her feet. She rushed outside and saw that an enormous pile of garbage at a nearby landfill had collapsed.
Her home, which had been a couple of hundred yards from the trash heap, was buried. So were her parents and two siblings.
At least 113 people, according to the latest government estimate, were killed when part of the Repi landfill, in the southwest of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, collapsed. In the days since, grieving survivors have been tormented by a pressing question: Could this tragedy have been prevented?
“We don’t know how such a thing could happen,” a weeping Ms. Hanna said. “Hopefully, someone can tell us and find a solution for the future. I hope this can be a lesson for the government, and that they remember us.”
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The disaster is at odds with the image Ethiopia wants to project as a rapidly developing country. Poverty rates have decreased by more than 30 percent since 2000, according to the World Bank, and government officials have claimed economic growth in the double digits over the last decade. Addis Ababa, home to the African Union, is a bustling city where new malls, hotels and apartment buildings are constantly being built.


Rescue operations at the Repi landfill the day after the collapse. More than a week later, the smell of trash and decomposing bodies was still wafting through the neighborhood. CreditMulugeta Ayene/Associated Press

But that has caused large-scale displacement for the poor in the capital. The government has been constructing high-rise apartment blocks on the edges of the city to house people at subsidized rates, but critics say those efforts have been plagued by corruption. Many of the displaced have resorted to building makeshift shelters in dangerous and undesirable areas, including on and around the Repi landfill.
“The government must take responsibility for what happened and come up with a better plan for a sustainable solution for these people,” said Girma Seifu, who was the only opposition member in Parliament until a 2015 election gave the governing coalition every seat.
Ethiopia has been under a state of emergency since October, enacted after months of sometimes deadly protests by demonstrators demanding more political freedom.
Repi is now a mass grave. More than a week after the collapse, a horrible smell of trash and decomposing bodies still wafts through the neighborhood, which is crowded with survivors, mourners and volunteers. Corpses are still being pulled from the refuse.
“The idea that they died buried in dirt, just like they lived in dirt, is heartbreaking,” Mr. Girma said.
A security worker at the site, who did not want to give his name for fear of retribution, said that he thought the death toll could exceed the government’s estimate by hundreds of victims, and that many families were finding it difficult to identify the recovered bodies.


A victim’s coffin was lowered into a grave in Addis Ababa last week. Bustling development in the capital has pushed many of the poor to build shelters in dangerous areas like landfills. CreditMulugeta Ayene/Associated Press

Repi, which covers more than 60 acres and whose vast heaps of waste are blanketed by a noxious haze, has been Addis Ababa’s main dumping ground for about half a century. The site is also known as Koshe, derived from the Amharic word koshasha, or dirty.
Hundreds of people used to comb through the refuse every day, looking for scraps to use or sell, even though basic landfill infrastructure for drainage, containment and odor control was essentially nonexistent.
The government had planned to shut down the site and open a new landfill outside the capital early last year. But that was in a town called Sendafa in the Oromia region, home to the country’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo, who have long complained of marginalization at the hands of the government.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Ethiopia landfill landside: Death toll reaches 113 -

Landslide at landfill kills dozens
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Landslide at landfill kills dozens 00:44

Story highlights

  • Many people lived in makeshift houses on top of the landfill
  • The government had been trying to resettle people living in the area
(CNN)The death toll has risen to 113, after several days of searching turned up more bodies following a weekend landslide at a massive landfill outside Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa.
Communications Minister Negeri Lencho told CNN Wednesday the bodies of 38 males and 75 females had been recovered, many of them children.
    "This is the result of the search because this is a vast area. It is also deep. The amount (that) collapsed, it is deep, it takes time," the minister said, explaining the sharp increase in the death toll.
    Police officers secure the scene after the landslide at the landfill, as excavators aid rescue efforts on the outskirts of Addis Ababa on Sunday, March 12, 2017.
    At least 60 people were counted dead shortly after the mounds of decaying trash and debris gave way late Saturday. Many people lived in makeshift houses on top of the garbage.
    "There is no explanation for this accident except naturally the pile of this trash may have been shaken. The investigation ... is still going on," Lencho said.
    Excavators move mounds of trash Sunday as rescuers look for any possible survivors after the landslide.
    The landfill is called Koshe, which means "dust." It's been around for decades, servicing the sprawling and growing capital.
    "It's a sad story because the government has been trying to resettle the people residing in the area," Lencho told CNN Monday. The government had also been building a factory to convert waste products at the landfill into energy, he said.
    Fisseha Tekle, the chief researcher for Amnesty International in Ethiopia, said the government claims it has been developing for the last decade, "but it was not able to take residents out of this deplorable situation," he said.
    And, he said, there had been no concrete action to remove the people from this area prior to this incident.
    Residents grieve after more bodies are recovered at the landfill Sunday.
    The smells permeate the landfill and nearby areas. Small fires erupt because of the methane gas the decomposing trash produces.
    "And those people are living in the middle of that location. It's not a landfill anymore, it's like a mountain," Tekle said. "Whatever kind of country you are, you cannot let people live in this situation."
    Tekle said the government should resettle the people and do an "accountability investigation."
    The government is "fully responsible for the people living on this site and for their condition of those people who died, and for their lack of safety," he said.
    Makeshift dwellings crumbled in the landslide, which took place late Saturday evening.
    Along with the dead, dozens were injured in the landslide, Lencho said. Video showed crews with heavy equipment at the scene scraping and digging through the debris and shots of flimsy and upended dwellings.
    The government has transferred 290 people who were living on the landfill, but who were not injured in the accident, to a temporary shelter in a youth center in Addis Ababa.
    Hope for Korah, a Canadian NGO that assists people living in the area near the dump, said on its Facebook page in the days after the landslide that people at the landfill were "frantically looking for friends and family."
    Some of the people who were trapped tried to call authorities to get help from inside the debris, the group said.
    One woman and her three children managed to scramble to safety just as their home became caught up in the landslide, according to the NGO.
    A similar landslide occurred in December 2015 at a waste dump in Shenzhen, China, killing 58.
    CNN's Briana Duggan reported from Nairobi, Kenya, and Ryan Prior and Joe Sterling wrote from Atlanta.Ethiopia landfill landside: Death toll reaches 113 -

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