October 16, 2014 / 10:54 AM / 5 years ago

Ethiopia's fast-growing capital aims to become greener and cleaner

ADDIS ABABA, Oct 16 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - E thiopia’s capital city, Addis Ababa, has a name that means “new flower” but for up to four million people living there, it’s more likely to conjure up images of worsening pollution and traffic gridlock.

The city administration started rolling out a 10-year master plan in 2012 aiming to make the rapidly developing city in Africa’s fastest-growing economy greener, cleaner and pleasant to live in. Many residents aren’t convinced it is working yet.

Alemu Dagne, 48, an engineer and father of two, says he misses the clean air of the once-sleepy city.

“Every day I have to set out for work at 6 am (on public transport) and commute back home starting early at 4pm, as the road is clogged with cars, which not only crowd the roads but also pollute the air,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

He hopes the city’s new light rail system, powered by electricity - with the first stage scheduled for launch in January - will provide a cleaner, faster mode of travel.

Asamenewe Tekleyohanes, legal affairs officer at the Addis Ababa City Government Environmental Protection Authority, said the capital suffers four types of pollution: air, water, soil and noise.

His organisation is working on a study with a local green group on air pollution, especially from cars, and looking at potential technologies to reduce it.

The authority says it has overseas tools to measure the greenhouse gas emissions of the city, the nation’s economic hub.

“Development has its own adverse effects so, in addition to awareness training, we are carrying out inspections on industries to check whether they have put in place cleaner technology to offset potential pollution,” Tekleyohanes said.

CRACKDOWN ON INDUSTRY

The Ministry of Environmental Protection and Forestry gave industries five years until January this year to control pollution or face consequences ranging from warnings to closure.

The agency is now taking administrative and legal measures against non-compliant industries but Tekleyohanes said the problem of vehicle fumes was harder to tackle.

The authority plans to check emissions levels in its next annual inspection of cars, regardless of model and age, at facilities with modern equipment and trained personnel.

One solution proposed could be to take old cars off the road by restricting imports of secondhand vehicles and replacing them with new environmentally friendly cars.

Ethiopia is aiming for net zero carbon emissions by 2025. Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn told a U.N. Climate Summit in New York last month that the government was targeting double-digit economic growth so it can become a medium-income country by 2025, while at the same time curbing emissions.

Part of that plan involves investing in clean and renewable power, he added. By the middle of next year or soon after, Ethiopia will have increased power generation from renewable sources to 10,000 megawatts (MW) from the current 2,268 MW.

Abrehet Gebrehiwot, another official with the city’s environmental protection authority, believes forests could help.

Her office is striving to protect local forest cover, especially in the city’s northern districts, while also replacing the foreign eucalyptus tree - known for soil leeching - with local tree varieties like olive, juniper and hygenia.

The city’s rising population and increasing demand for land - whether for private, industrial or residential needs - are becoming a threat to some of its most treasured forest areas.

The city master plan envisages forest cover of 22,000 hectares or 41 percent of its area but it remains at 14 percent.

“We want to use Addis’s forests as a carbon sink, (for emissions) coming from cars, factories and homes, in addition to using it as protection against dangerous rays and foul smells,” said Gebrehiwot.

Negash Teklu, executive director of the PHE Ethiopia consortium which groups NGOs, researchers and government agencies working on population, health and the environment, is confident Addis Ababa’s rising pollution can be addressed.

“We want to initiate a comprehensive strategy to make the city green - be it sewerage systems, industrial plants and parks - using the city’s own master plan,” he said. (Editing by Megan Rowling and Belinda Goldsmith) ;))

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