"Collecting garbage in Addis Ababa"

Residents are strongly advised not to pay any money to the associations and individuals collecting the trash.

Meseret Mesfin (not her real name), 37, a single mother of two renting a one-bedroom condominium in the Woiyera area of Addis Ababa, has recently become mesmerized by her monthly water bill which reflects a 2 percent additional payment for the ‘cleaning and beautification of Addis.’ She tries to limit the amount of solid waste generated from her house and is anxious to get the little generated disposed as soon as possible as there is no adequate space for storage.

When she moved in a couple of years ago, having no experience living in such confined housing, she, for weeks wondered what to do with the trash until she was advised to leave it by her door-steps every Sunday for disposal. During the first few months, it was, indeed, collected, although there were occasional two or three day delays. Lately, things have changed, and the trash may not be collected for up to two weeks. Meseret and her neighbors do not feel comfortable leaving their trash to decompose and stink their front doors. They miss members of the more than one thousand moving around the alleys of Addis collecting garbage from each household.

It is estimated that more than 300,000 tons of waste is generated daily in Addis Ababa, of which three quarters comes from households. Decades ago dump trucks of the City Administration drove around collecting waste coming out of individual houses and put on the sides of the streets by residents on selected days of the week. It was a difficult task and limited parts of the city were served, as most neighborhoods in the city could not easily be accessed in such a way. Later, residents were required to dump their trash in centrally situated dumpsters to be picked by dump trucks. This was not easy to manage either, as the trash was not only disposed in the dumpsters but all around them, and residents often refused to use them, claiming they were hazardous to their health. In fact, some said it encouraged the littering of their surroundings, as individuals would dump their trash everywhere around the dumpsters.

The latest means of using groups of individuals going to each household to collect trash has been in place for more than five years. The individuals are organized under the micro and small enterprises program of the city, with each woreda having an agreement with the waste management offices of the woredas. The majority of residents say they are happy with this solid waste management of households. For those residents who noticed and questioned the 2 percent additional payment included in their water bill, the City Administration confirmed that it covered what the collectors were paid. It technically means all individuals and institutions using the City Administration Water Supply are directly paying for solid waste disposal service.

In woreda 3 of the Nefas Silk Lafto sub-City for instance, there are nine such associations with an average membership of 10 individuals. According to Nejbedin Shifa, awareness creation officer, with the waste management office of the woreda, there are nine zones within the woreda that are designated to each association. They are responsible for collecting garbage from houses at least twice a week. They are to knock on the doors of each house and ask if there is garbage to be disposed. After transporting the garbage to centrally located dumpsters using carts, they separate the easily decomposing part from the rest. Valuable items like cans and other metallic materials and plastic bottles are retrieved and sold by associations fetching additional income. The remaining waste is piled on the 8 cu.m. dumpsters to be picked up by trucks and dumped at the Addis Ababa landfill site.

The associations are paid by the City Waste Management Agency 40 birr for each cubic meter of trash at the dumpsite, after the woreda provides them with documentation verifying the amount collected by them each week, meaning the more trash they collect, the more they get paid. Nejbedin and his colleagues claim that there are associations that collect three dumpsters full of trash in a single day.

Residents are strongly advised not to pay any money to the associations and individuals collecting the trash. In fact, they are penalized by the woreda if they are reported to have taken payments directly from residents. They have the obligation to serve each household and small enterprise on an equal basis, without demanding payment. Nedjebin underlined that they are paid from the 2 percent the city collects from the water bills entitling all residents of the city for the service.

If residents feel that they are underserved they have the right to lodge their complaints with their respective woreda administrations. Under each woreda there are at least four officers like Nejbedin with the responsibility of supervising two or more of the associations with frequent contact. This gives them the opportunity to deal with complaints right away, he insists.

For now, Meseret and her neighbors don’t seem to know what to do to improve the service they get. The mandate of the waste management office of the woredas includes awareness creation of citizens on the whole issue of waste management and informing them about the services they are entitled to. It seems additional effort is required from all sides to further improve the good work being done by the army of garbage collectors.

By Ashenafi Gizaw (thereporterethiopia.com)

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