In the past two weeks, the Sendafa Sanitary Landfill have become the talking point of Addis Ababa. It did not get as much attention even last September when it was inaugurated, touted as Addis Ababa’s “ambitious plan to transform its solid waste management, collection, and disposal systems”
Sendafa Landfill is a multi-million dollars project located 27 kilometers to the northeast of Addis Ababa in Oromia region in an area called “Chebe Wergenu”, nearby Legetafo town.
In normal times, few would care to know about the city’s waste disposal site. However, since mid-July, Sendafa Landfill became a household name as the local community stopped trucks from dumping garbage in the site.
Addis Ababa had to pile up garbage on its streets for ten days before the authorities decided to re-open the Qoshe waste disposal site, which was closed last December when Sendafa became operational. Meanwhile, Addis Ababa and Oromia officials are reportedly conferring on the matter.
The authorities have been giving a simple answer to the media: We have paid compensation to the displaced farmers but they are blocking us from disposing waste in the site.
HornAffairs traveled to the area on Thursday to find out why the locals community blocked garbage dumping in the site.
The local peoples’ version of the matter was much different from the authorities.
A farmer evicted due to the project told HornAffairs that the authorities have not been straightforward from the beginning. “When the land appropriation began in 2011/12, they told us it was for the construction of a new airport, and we will benefit from employment opportunities,” he said.
Several farmers describe the land appropriation process as intimidating and unfair. “They undervalued the size of our land and its production,” a farmer claimed. Adding that, “They brought law enforcement officers and told us if we didn’t comply, we will be treated as outlaws.”
The difference between the version of the officials and the farmers does not end there.
The officials have been telling local papers in the past weeks that the displaced farmers were paid their land’s 10 years’ worth as compensation. Two farm owners told HornAffairs that they were paid only one-year worth compensation.
The farmers told me the rate was 18 birr per square meter. I pointed out that would be 180,000 birr/hectare and asked, “Isn’t that enough money for a farmer?”
“In the past, we used to eat our produce. Now we are mere consumers like you. How long can we live off of this?” a father of seven responded.
As a reference, he described that a typical farmer produces up to 40 quintal/hectare/year. “But that’s the estimation the officials accepted, we produce more,” he quickly added. Another farmer said, a farmer in the area could lease half-hectare land up to 60,000 birr for farming purpose for a year.
The officials claimed to have paid “more than 40 million birr” compensation in 2012. In recent media statements, they lowered the figure to 25 million. But locals claim, less than 5 million was paid for compensation.
Waste Disposal Pits
After lobbying the security guards of Sendafa Landfill, we were allowed to visit the the waste disposal site driving through it.
There are two large disposal pits. The first is for dry waste disposal, while the second is for chemical waste from factories.
The dry waste disposal pit is eight hectares size, according to an employee of the site. The depth appears about five meters. It is already half full. But we were told the garbage will be pilled up to twenty meters high. Still, it is hard to imagine how at current rate it will last five years, let alone the planned thirty years.
By definition, a Sanitary Landfill consists “putting on a cover material at the end of each operating day” and compacting the waste to the smallest possible size.
On Thursday, we saw the waste mostly covered with a silver sheet. However, the locals told HornAffairs, “There was no covering material before we began complaining.”
One truck was pushing the pile of waste from the sides of the pit to the top. Though, it appears inadequate to compact the waste that is spread almost four hectares horizontally – if that is the objective.
Local farmers claim the bad smell from the waste reaches several kilometers afar, up to a condominium site called Bole Arebsa. One young man described, “The smell gets people sick. The flies gathered due to the waste irritate the oxen we use for plowing. We can’t farm anymore.”
“You should have come on a sunny day to observe the scale of flies and scavengers,” another farmer exclaimed. A third described how dogs scatter bones all over the villages after rummaging the waste.
The wire fence is too wide to block them.
The dry waste is not so dry after all. There is fluid component that comes inside the dry waste. That fluid trickles down to the ground and drains through a pipe into another smaller pit. Then it is channeled to a third pit.
The fluid from the chemical waste pit (mentioned above) passes through these smaller pits.
During this passage through the three smaller pits, the fluids are supposed to lose their toxic character.
However, the locals dispute that claim.
“Look at these flowers,” a farmer said pointing to flowering plants on the side of the third of the smaller pit. Some are green while others have turned brown and yellow. “This happened when the liquid spilled into the field,” he explained.
Yet, that fluid is deemed safe and is released to a channel outside the compound. It eventually flows into Akaki River.
To help the detoxication process, grass had to be planted in one of the smaller pits, the locals explained to me. But there was no grass in the pits. One farmer claimed, smiling, “the budget for the grass was 40,000 birr”.
There is another unsafe fluid.
As the waste has already reached the top of the waste disposal pit; when rain falls, it washes the waste and runs off to sideways. Then it enters the channel created for rainwater drainage. According to a local, that flows directly outside the compound and eventually to Akaki River.
If there claims are verified, the locals resistance would as well be in direct interest of Addis Ababa, not just their locality.
Not a regional thing
Like many, I suspected the controversy on Sendafa Landfill could be part of the resistance to Addis Ababa’s growing pressures on the surrounding Oromia areas. Just like the draft master plan covering the surrounding areas – which was cancelled after protests engulfed Oromia.
The locals are aware of that. And quick to dismiss it.
“Some portray this matter as a regional thing,” said a displaced farmland owner, who is educated up to 10+1 level. “It is not”. Then added, “we are just asking for Article 92 of the Constitution.”
“What does that article say?” I asked, embarrassed.
“The right to clean and healthy environment,” he quickly replied.
Later, talking to another farmer, I asked, what he would suggest as a solution.
“The government can build anything it wishes on the land. We do not object. Just remove the waste, dump it elsewhere.”
The farmer said, “Now officials are promising to give us the rest of the compensation, to give us land deeds in another area. But we can trust their words anymore.”
After lamenting about the compensation process – that he was given compensation for much less than the actual square meter of his land; he added “they cheated the square meter, they cheated the money”. [ካሬውን ሰረቁ፣ ብሩን ሰረቁ]