Rescue workers watch as excavators dig into a pile of garbage in search of missing people following a landslide at the Koshe garbage dump in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, March 13, 2017. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri
By Aaron Maasho
Biniam Alemeneh’s father was a construction worker, but the 16-year-old Ethiopian student dreamed of becoming an engineer, inspired by his country’s booming economy and the tall glass buildings mushrooming around his home city of Addis Ababa.
On March 11, the colossal mound of rubbish that dominated his neighbourhood collapsed, burying him and at least 114 others and tarnishing the government’s carefully polished image of economic progress.
“It took them three days to find my boy,” said Biniam’s mother Kassanesh, gesturing to a framed photograph of a teenager with a toothy smile and curly mop of hair.
Residents say at least 80 people are still missing after the landslide. Hundreds of people lived next to the 50-year-old Reppi dump, known as “Koshe” or “dirty” in the Amharic language.
The disaster crushed dozens of homes: not just the makeshift shacks of the rubbish pickers, but also brick and concrete houses built with carefully saved cash earned during Ethiopia’s recent economic expansion.
The East African country, rapidly becoming a regional powerhouse, is projected to grow by 7.5 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund. Foreign investment shot up from $500 million in 2008 to $3.5 billion in 2015.
The growth has helped pull millions of Ethiopians out of poverty, but also led to violence, as industrialisation has forced farmers from their land and the government has cracked down on political protests.
Biniam’s father Tsegaye said residents had often complained to city authorities about the dump, warning it fostered disease and put local families at risk.
It was supposed to gradually close from 2015, but when garbage trucks began taking rubbish to a new site, protests erupted.
The plan to close Reppi stalled. It remained the city’s only landfill site, taking in daily deliveries of trash from the city’s 5 million residents.
“Whenever any problem was raised, the authorities made pledges (to move the garbage) all the time. They didn’t really care,” Tsegaye said as weeping mourners spilled out of the small brick house to stand under a tarpaulin stretched outside.
“He did not deserve this. All he wanted to do was make it to university.”
At the site on Sunday, dozens of volunteers and emergency workers scrabbled through stinking waste, vultures hovering above them. Emergency workers said it could take months to uncover all the victims.
(Editing by Katharine Houreld and Mark Trevelyan)