Posted by Rotary Ethiopia
By Rtn Milha Desta
I am taking you to the city of Addis Ababa founded in 1886 as Ethiopia’s capital. Its location was chosen by Empress Taytu Betul for the hot springs, abundant water resources and lush woodlands to serve as firewood. Now, more than a century later, a bustling capital city of nearly five million inhabitants, Addis Ababa suffers from water and electricity shortages. Addis draws its drinking water from the Gefersa and Legedadi reservoirs fed by rivers entering the city, as well as the Akaki well fields, supplied from the city’s groundwater. Hydropower plants dependent on rivers and other water bodies in the country generate 90% of the Ethiopia’s electricity. All of Addis’ rivers feed into Aba Samuel Lake and fuel hydropower generation. The outflow from there enters the much larger Awash River. One would be correct to assume rivers are vital for the city and every appropriate measure should be in place to protect and preserve water resources. In reality, Addis Ababa’s rivers are in dire straits.
case in point is the Little Akaki River, which the Hopeful River Initiative (HRI) has been working on since 2014. The Little Akaki is a ~12 kilometers long tributary to the Akaki, winding its way through tightly-packed neighbourhoods of Addis. It is highly polluted by solid and liquid waste, as riparian communities know all too well. The HRI has confirmed the pollution through observations and river water tests. The sources of pollution are manyfold, including industrial and agricultural effluents, sewage and solid waste from households and industry. Each of these sources of pollution can be attributed to a breakdown in the governance system of basic services provision and regulation enforcement.  Looking at the solid waste collection system of the city, 65% is collected, and out of this only 5% is expected to be recycled, 5% is composted and the remainder is disposed of in landfills; while the uncollected 35% is dumped in unauthorized areas, usually rivers.
Contrary to many cities in the world, in Addis Ababa rivers and riversides are not valued by the citizenry; they are seen as receptacles of waste. Rivers are hidden by urban planning which didn’t take them into consideration and are covered by roads to the point where many residents of the city are unaware of their existence. Owing to its low status, informal settlements and poor people reside close to the rivers. They are exposed to floods, contaminated water, waterborne diseases, and bad smell. Furthermore, they lack access to basic services such as road connections, water supply, and sanitation.
It is with this backdrop the Rotary Club of Addis Ababa Central Mella adopted the Hopeful Little Akaki Project, in 2021 with the support of the UNEP Adopt a River Project we intensified our activities on the river. Moreover, this project has inspired rotary clubs in Jimma and Bahir Dar cities to start river Projects. In collaboration with other Rotary clubs, we incorporated peace concept through community building. The Rotary Clubs of Addis Ababa Central Mella, West, East, Bole, Sheger, and the Green Rotract Concept came together to clean up a stretch of the Little Akaki River.  So far six (6) clean up events were organised where at least 192 bags and ~2300 kgs of riverside waste was collected, 266 volunteers, community members, Rotarians, and Rotaractors participated. During these clean-ups coffee ceremonies were organized to have discussions in the community on managing their waste together, different pre-existing conflicts and issues arose throughout the conversations. These conflicts are being resolved through dialogue and positive actions for a common goal such as cleaning up the Little Akaki Riverside by which they live and learning and making compost together.  We have been training the community on how make compost as one of the main strategies of reducing waste reduction from source, we are currently on the third round of training reaching 60 community members.
The peace project has trained, and certified 108 peace ambassadors through the Institute for Peace and Economics (IEP), these will participate in future community building activities around the Little Akaki River. The Project will also build a peace park with 1000 native trees on the Little Akaki Riverside. This project will continue for several more years until all stretches of the river are rid of waste, communities, industries, and business alike eliminate their waste at source. Thus, we invite all rotary clubs in Addis Ababa to adopt a stretch of the Little Akaki River to create a coordinated cumulative result in a short period of time, with dividends to be enjoyed by all.