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Ethiopia on the Verge of Environmental Collapse (By: J. Kitil )

By: J. Kitil
November 28,2018

I am an Ethiopian and have been living since 1980 in Switzerland. After 38 years of life abroad, I travelled to Ethiopia for the first time a couple of months before. I want to share with you about a serious concern worrying me continually since this visit. It is well known that Ethiopia has many major challenges. I think environmental degradation, population explosion, ethnic problems and poverty are the major ones. But the most alarming challenge which has not been given serious focus among these is the environmental problem.

Addis Ababa (I abbreviate it as Addis next) has become very big with new sub cities created. Betehl, Bole Bulubula, Goro, Lebu, Ashewameda, etc are all unknown to me before. The farmlands around Addis have completely disappeared with the huge expansion of the city to the farmlands. I saw newly built streets, business centers, modern hotels, large number of condominiums and etc. in these areas. One can see not only the flat lands around Addis which became big sub-cities but also the surrounding hills.

The population explosion is very much alarming in Addis and everywhere in the country. At every corner and street of Addis, I observed dozens of ragged young men simply standing hours at each road intersections hoping to be picked up as a daily laborer. Many of them are even sleeping and living on the streets. It is very worrying to realize that the most potentially productive part and the largest part of the society is not engaged in productive activity.

I was born in small rural village in western Ethiopia. I travelled to this village, which is 415 km far away from Addis. Around 65 km of the road leading to this village remained unpaved and my travel to that village was a bit difficult. In order to satisfy my childhood memory, I tried to look around the village. The marks of development are very limited in the village. There was one elementary school at that time and students have to travel to other bigger town to attend secondary school. This school has grown to preparatory school level but the infrastructure is very poor. I have seen classrooms filled with broken desks, very old blackboards, library with very few books, broken tables and shelves, etc. There was no any public clink at that time in this village but now there is one small public clinic giving limited medical health service to the people. But, the people still have no clean tap water and no electricity.

I was stunned by the devastating change on the climatic situation in the surrounding. The forest areas are cleared. The hills which were covered by forest at that time become bare surfaces. You see a bit eucalyptus trees around the homes. The eucalyptus trees impact in impoverishing the soil and damaging the biodiversity of the eco system is clearly observable. Many of the rivers and lakes I knew as a child have completely dried. The river I used to practice swimming as a child has disappeared. To fetch drinking water, women and children are travelling hours as a result today. The livestock animals have no sufficient water resource to drink and grass to graze. Looking at hungry livestock animals with scare body on the fields, I felt very sorry and asked myself “how long do the people sustain this environmental damage?” The serious environmental degradation is very apparent and alarming. With the complete deforestation of the area, many of the rivers and lakes I have known have dried. Even, the existing rivers are very much muddied and polluted as a result of the absence of forests. The climate becomes warmer. I have clearly realized during my visit the importance of forest and trees to water supply.

I travelled also to Adama. I was fascinated on the modernity of the high way built between Addis and Adama. But the hills and mountains surrounding Adama and on both sides of the highway look completely with no forests. The river canals are dried and have no water. The livestock animals have very little to graze.

I travelled on bus to Bahir Dar too. On my way to Bahir Dar, I observed fields and hills with no much forest coverage. I visited also Tisabay fall, which I have known before. The flow of the water fall has significantly decreased. The pollution level due to the invasive weed and poor waste management of the surrounding buildings in Lake Tana is also clear to see.

I asked friends what the Government is doing about the environmental changes. They told me that the awareness of the Government on the consequences of environmental change is low. One friend has told me even that the Government has encouraged the deforestation of the country by giving millions of Birr to the so called “thief-investors” to remove forests in Gambella and other parts of the country to sell as timber. I asked him why he called them thief-investors. He said to me they are thief because they loot the public money from the so called “Limat Bank” without any feasible investment plan and verifiable collateral, because they are member or supports of the Governing party.

Awareness about environmental issues is very low among the whole society as per my realization. I do not think that the Government has realized that healthy environment is fundamental for the existence of humanity and the development of the nation. There will not be sustainable development without sustainable environment. The present generation has the obligation not to compromise the ability of the future generation to meet its need. It is very clear that the irresponsible exploitation of the environment today poses existential threat to the future generation.

The climate change is not a future phenomenon in Ethiopia. It is not far that the whole country becomes desert, if the current trend continues. I am very concerned about the sustainability of the nation under such climatic condition. That is why I gave such annoying title for my message. Ethiopia is on the verge of environmental collapse. If the Minister President wants to save Ethiopia, he has to start with the „Environment”. There must be a political will to initiate a massive policy shift for the protection of the environment. The environment has to be given priority No. 1 in Ethiopia. Without giving due focus to the environment, Ethiopia cannot achieve its developmental goals. It is very critical that the country make a big plan of action to protect the environment. I hope the global partners will be also ready to support Ethiopia and reverse this trend. Otherwise, the consequences are too big. The migration of millions of people has much far consequences not only to Ethiopia but to the rest of the world as well.

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