A massive garbage dump collapse in Ethiopia has killed at least 48 people

Excavators work a collapsed landfill on the outskirts of Addis Ababa.
Excavators work a collapsed landfill on the outskirts of Addis Ababa.
Image: Reuters/Reuters TV
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At least 48 people have been killed by a landslide at a massive garbage dump on the outskirts of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. On Saturday, piles of garbage collapsed onto waste pickers searching the Koshe landfill for food and goods to sell. It also covered dozens of homes built around the site.

The incident is a reminder of some of the contradictions in Ethiopia’s success story as one of the continent’s fastest growing economies. Only a decade ago, Ethiopia was the second poorest country in the world; now it averages more than 10% economic growth a year and hopes to join the ranks of middle income countries by 2025. It’s also the site of heavily repressed protests and poverty still plagues almost a third of the population.

Koshe, which means “dirty” in Amharic, and its community of waste pickers that Ethiopian officials refer to as “scavengers” are a blot on that image. It covers an estimated 36 hectares with piles of garbage as deep as 40 meters and takes in about 4,000 tonnes of organic waste every day, according to the UNDP’s office in Ethiopia. Hundreds of squatters and waste pickers live in and around the landfill, depending on the 50-year-old dumping site for their livelihoods.

It’s not clear what caused the landslide, but locals have blamed construction of a biogas plant within the dump. The plant, being built by the city of Addis Ababa, UNDP and Addis Ababa University, requires a system of pipes and wells installed in the landfill to capture and destroy methane produced by organic waste.

The project, which will give Ethiopia carbon credits to sell on the global market, is meant to “set an example of best-practice standards” for waste management in Africa’s biggest cities. Money from the sale of carbon credits is to be put toward turning Koshe into a park and creating jobs for the waste pickers.

Ethiopian authorities haven’t commented on the cause of collapse at Koshe. Prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn expressed “his condolences” while the city administrator has visited the site and promised the city’s support to the families of the victims.