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Sewage facilities remain a nightmare for most of Addis Abeba’s 2.7 million residents as lack of urinals and lavatories remain constant. Unhygienic living conditions bring about diseases for those living in cramped quarters. Unfortunately, the capital of Africa is far from achieving its set Millennium Development Goals when it comes to sanitation, writes ELLENI ARAYA, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER.

Insanity over Unsanitary State

A communal pit latrine with 3 stalls situated in Arada district, kebele 12, is meant to accommodate several households in the neighbourhood.

Kidist Estifanos is one of the 45 employees hired to oversee the sanitation of bathrooms and floors at Getu Commercial Center on Africa Avenue. Her job is to clean the ladies’ bathroom located on the lobby of the building. There are as many people coming off the streets to use the bathroom as customers of the building, according to Kidist.

“There are even times, when men in emergency situations come in and beg me to use the ladies bathroom,” she told Fortune. “Some of them are so desperate that they can’t hold off to use the men’s bathroom upstairs.”

This is perhaps a typical example of the scarcity of public bathrooms in the capital. None can be found on the road starting from Bole Airport to Meskel Square on Africa Avenue. There are only 65 public toilets in the city, according to data from Addis Abeba Water and Sanitation Authority (AAWSA).

These are unevenly distributed and scanty for Addis Abeba’s 2.7 million residents, according to the 2007 census done by the Central Statistics Agency (CSA.) Out of these, 24 are directly under the management of AAWSA while the management of the remaining is outsourced to NGOs. The outsourced public toilets charge 25 cents for liquid waste, 50 cents for solid waste, and one Birr charge for cold showers, according to AAWSA officials.

Increasingly, it is on the goodwill of hotels, cafes, restaurants and other service providers that residents of Addis rely on to relieve themselves, during commutes. People whose offices are the roads of the capital like traffic police, parking ticket controllers and public transport providers are especially affected.

Berhanu Abera and Cheruamlak Bonger (both Asst Sgt) work at the traffic junction between Ghana-Namibia and Mike Leyland-Cape Verde streets. They say that whenever they are in need of toilet facilities, they salute the guards at Atlas Hotel and walk in. They do not usually encounter refusal, but Cheruamlak admits that sometimes it is embarrassing to use hotel bathroom facilities without being an actual customer there.

“Because we are public officials, people are usually cooperative,” he told Fortune. “But I would feel much better if there were clean public toilets around, so that we do not have to depend on private institutions for our facilities.”

But shortage of public toilets is only one aspect of Addis Abeba’s sanitation problems.

The sewerage network only serves about seven to nine per cent of the population, according to data from AAWSA. The authority’s 2002 master plan indicates that the sewerage system comprises of about 30km trunk sewer line, which serves 40,000 people through 18,000 connections.

The rest of the population, which have flush toilets and proper pit latrines, have to make do with septic tanks, which have to be drained using liquid waste disposal vacuum trucks every time they are full. There is sometimes a long two to three month wait for sludge removal services from the authority, due to shortage of vacuum trucks, according to Aynalem Abeba, mother of two, who lives in Kirkos District.

Out of the city’s 629,986 housing units, the majority, 258,541 (41 pc), have shared pit latrines, according to the 2007 census. This figure does not include the ventilated and improved latrines (VIP). There are 90,206 households in the city (14.3 pc) which are without toilet facilities, according the same census. Both these conditions are not considered proper sanitation and are classified as unimproved sanitation conditions according to Millennium Development Goal (MDG) Standards.

The area where Aynalem lives hosts a group of poorly constructed shanty houses mostly made of mud and fenced by wayward corrugated iron sheets.  These dwellings are closely quartered, and house many people. Aynalem shares a compound with three other kebele houses like her own. Her house is right next to the communal latrine which all four houses, containing 21 people, share.

But Aynalem says that the small latrine hosts more than 50 people, as outside neighbours who do not have latrines of their own, claim the right to use this one provided by the kebele. The overused latrine is not hygienic and gives rise to foul smell and airborne bacteria.

Shared communal latrines are especially susceptible to lack of hygiene, as they handle many people above their capacity, filling up septic tanks quickly, according to Behailu Tsegaye, head of the wereda’s health office. In addition, the latrines are usually shoddy constructions without proper sewage disposal systems, and are likely to malfunction.

This is a particularly difficult situation for Aynalem.

“Most of the time, one or more members of my family has the common cold,” Aynalem told Fortune. “I do not even allow my children to play within the compound because the smell is overpowering.”

With such heavy use, it is difficult to wait on others who use it to clean up properly after each use, admits Aynalem.

“Nobody cares about cleaning up after they use the toilet, especially the neighbours who claim the rights to use our bathroom,” Aynalem, who sent her two boys to stay with her mother,  hoping they would get some respite from the perpetual rank odour of the house, told Fortune. 

The situation Aynalem lives in, is a microcosm of the severity of lack of hygiene in the Kiroks distirct.

There are 52,584 houses out of which 22,272 households (42.3 pc) use shared latrines, not counting the shared VIP latrines that are 21.6 pc, according to the census data. Among the households, those that have no facilities stand at 9.6 pc; private flush toilets are 10.8 pc; those with shared flush toilets are seven per cent; and private latrines are three per cent.


A communal latrine, in a complete state of disrepair, with run down corrugated iron sheets, situated in Arat Killo area, is the only bathroom facility for the people living in the surrounding mud houses. 


There is also a lack of proper drainage in the kebele where Aynalem lives. Sewage water, green with algae and spotted with faecal matter, lies out in the open in the narrow alleyways leading to her house. Many people bring iron pans and cans containing waste and dump it outside in the open drainage, according to Aynalem.

Kirkos District’s Wereda 4 administrative office has a health division bureau that works to raise awareness about health issues and sanitation problems. Behailu admits that the area where Aynalem lives is troublesome in terms of sanitation and housing conditions.

“There are people over there who build unauthorised houses, and dig pits for latrines without proper septic tanks or sewage network,” he told Fortune. “Some houses are even built on roads blocking access and making it difficult for AAWSA’s vacuum trucks to come and clean up when septic tanks fill up.”

The new redevelopment plan in Kirkos, where Wereda 7 houses will be overhauled to build condominium houses will solve some of the sanitation problems of that area, Behailu hopes.

Access to improved sanitation along with water resources is included in the environmental sustainability section of the MDGs, of which Ethiopia is a signatory. Success of water and sanitation MDGs for Ethiopia would be achieved if the country expands its access to clean water coverage by 100pc, and if sanitation coverage reaches 56pc, according to the goals set.

However, the progress report of the MDGs, prepared by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development (MoFED) and United Nations Development Program (UNDP) prepared in 2010 indicate that Ethiopia is far from being on the track.

Although the numbers for clean water provision are on track, proper sanitation is at 13pc far from the goal set for 2015, the final year for the achievement set. Only five countries are on track for MDG’s concerning sanitation in Africa, according to the MDG report published by the UN in 2010. Rwanda has already achieved sanitation coverage, while countries like South Africa, Tanzania, Angola and Zambia are making good progress.


Ethiopia’s sanitation coverage reached only 13pc in 2010 from eight percent in 2006, according to World Health organization (WHO). In its current rate of progress; in order to achieve the MDG target for sanitation, the country have to increase its sanitation coverage by 43pc within the remaining four years of the deadline for the MDGs.


However, in Ethiopia, only 13pc of the population has access to basic sanitation. Urban access to sanitation is 29pc,while in rural areas only eight percent of the people, have access.

In east Africa, there are 90 million people who practice open defecation, out of which 48.7pc of the practitioners were found in Ethiopia, according to the 2010 report of the Joint Monitoring Program (JMP) of UNICEF and WHO.

The cost of poor sanitation is also high, according to JMP reports, resulting  in loss of productivity due to illness, cost of health care provision and negative impact on tourism. Poor sanitation costs Ethiopia 9.7 billion Br each year, and for a dollar invested in improved sanitation the financial return can be nine dollars.

Addis Abeba lags behind in the sanitation improvement of the MDGs because there is a lack of awareness about sanitation issues, according to Alemayehu Negash from the Addis Abeba health office.

This is because the city’s master plan does not have wide coverage, especially for newly developed areas,” he told Fortune. “There are also unplanned dwellings in areas like Kirkos, Addis Ketema, and Autobus Terra where people build unauthorised houses on areas that used to be pit latrines.”

Many of the numbers for the sanitation situation in Ethiopia are found lumped together with data about the country’s water supply and coverage making it difficult to have an exact picture of the dire situation. AAWSA’s sanitation department mostly deals with removal of liquid waste, provision of sewer line for the city, and management of public latrines. In the 2010/2011 budget year, out of the 915 million Br project fund for AWWSA, 47.5 million Br was allocated for sanitation projects whereas water projects took the lion’s share of the budget, assigned with 554 million Br, according to AAWSA’s project development Bureau.

 “We are a developing country and resources are constrained, so we have had to prioritise on certain issues,” Jemal Reshid, AAWSA’s deputy manager, told Fortune.  “Sanitation projects like constructing pipelines and developing water treatment plans are costly endeavours that require a lot of money”

AAWSA and the city administration have so far been focusing on improving water coverage, but sanitation is important too, and it is receiving attention, according to Jemal.

There is indeed a budget increase for the coming 2011/2012 fiscal year. Out of the 1.4 billion Br allocated to AAWSA, 92.5 million Br is going for sanitation. However, when compared to water provision projects, which have been assigned 950 million Br, it is clear that sanitation still takes a back seat.

The project office of AAWSA has many plans for 2011/12, to improve the liquid waste removal and sewerage network of the city. The funds for the project office come from AAWSA itself, the city administration, and the World Bank. For 2004, there are plans to connect condominium toilet facilities to the city’s sewerage system, build 40 communal latrines, improve the sewerage system for the places that are outside of the city’s master plan and renovate the city’s treatment plants.

Currently, sludge from vacuum trucks is disposed of at Kaliti treatment plant and Yerer Ber, according to AAWSA’s 2002 master plan. Aside from that, five new vacuum trucks will be introduced in the city, which have the capacity to hold eight cubic metres of liquid waste.

In the previous year there were nine new vacuum trucks AAWSA had acquired, with the help of the World Bank, according to Yohannes Abegziabher, planning monitoring and evaluation expert at the AAWSA project office. AAWSA would soon start expanding its service hours from 5:00am in the morning up to 10:00pm at night, giving 16 hours of service daily, according to the plans of AWWSA’s Sewerage Service Department.

The main AAWSA operational office also has plans to build up to 1,000 public toilet facilities within the next five years. In the mean time, people like Berhanu and Cheruamlak, who spend their days on the streets managing the traffic of commuters in Addis, will have to do with whatever facilities they come across.





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