Ethiopia is changing. Today, it is one of Africa's top performing economies. This has led to increasing pressure on the country's infrastructure and communities as more people are attracted to cities in search of work and a better future.
This is evident in Woreda 8. Just behind Ethiopia's Parliament, Woreda 8 is one of Addis Ababa's oldest neighborhoods with more than 40,000 inhabitants. Working together, the local government and Habitat Ethiopia have formed a Community Committee to identify the needs of the heavily congested area where residents live in houses built of mud and sheet metal. Everything, from basic toilet facilities and structural repairs to environmental issues, like the haze that frequently hangs over the area from inefficient wood and charcoal stoves, is discussed.
"Some houses are not appropriate for human beings to live in," says Community Coordinator Tegene Gemuchu. "When I see these types of living conditions, we immediately contact Habitat for Humanity who understand the urgent need." There have been some successes, but challenges still face this community in the capital city.
Admas Stefanos, a 45-year old mother of four, has lived in Woreda 8 for over 30 years—virtually all of it without a toilet—is a case in point. She and her children used to walk to a nearby river, dig a hole and hope no one saw them. "We would go to the river because the water can wash away our dirt," she explains. "There were no toilets in the area."
Fikirte Demisie, along with 18 other people, live nearby just off Woreda 8's main street. In her compound's left corner is a black plastic sheet hanging in front of a few rocks around a hole in the ground.
The core issue is infrastructure. Woreda 8 has grown without a community development plan. Houses are built on available land, often in areas that are unsafe. Meseret Mamo, for example, lived in a damp home alongside a river. Every time it rained, the roof leaked, and when the river flooded, her home's foundation got weaker and water collected on the floor. She didn't have the money to repair her home or move to a new place.
Habitat Ethiopia, working through the Community Committee, rebuilt her home. "We no longer get sick from the leaking roof and wet walls," Meseret says. "And we can sleep at night without worrying that our house will collapse into the river and kill us. Now, all we have to do is rebuild the toilet we share with 19 other families."
"Together with Habitat Ethiopia," says Desalegn, "we are addressing the issues of limited access to water, lack of sanitation and poor infrastructure. We are impressed with Habitat's inclusive approach."
The situation in Woreda 8 is gradually changing but there's still a ways to go. Habitat Ethiopia has helped more than 5,000 people through construction of 30 communal toilet blocks, 59 water points and 28 communal kitchens; and renovation and repair of 22 homes. In addition, Habitat has increased hygiene awareness and provided employment. "So many people, particularly the young, have been trained and now have jobs because of Habitat," says Desalegn. "So the impact and benefits are much greater than just building a new house."
Helping redevelop a community is something Habitat Ethiopia does well. Debre Berhan, one of Ethiopia's oldest cities, and the country's capital in the 15th century, is a prime example. The city is now the site of one the largest Habitat 'villages' in the world with almost 700 homes.
The work in Debre Berhan started in 2008 when Habitat Ethiopia began providing energy-saving stoves. Then, as now, many women spend three to four days a week exposed to hours of excessive smoke from baking injera, Ethiopia's traditional bread. This results in increased eye and lung problems for both the women and other family members.
The new stoves had an immediate impact. They dramatically reduced health problems and birth defects. They also reduced wood consumption by half. With an average family spending more than 20 percent of its income on charcoal or wood for cooking, this meant people had more money to spend on basic necessities like food and education. And, the stoves, produced by local merchants and others, provided much needed employment.
At the national level, the stoves have helped reduce deforestation. According to recent study, Ethiopia lost an average of 140,900 hectares—more than 348,000 acres—of forest per year between 1990 and 2000. The new stoves saved trees, improved air quality, and helped ensure sustainable development.
In 2010, Habitat Ethiopia increased its presence when Debre Berhan population grew due to the increasing popularity of "Arake", a local alcohol. Most of the city's 85,000 citizens rely on the Arake 'industry' for employment. But as the city and commercial interest expanded, many families, who lived in local government housing that was already in poor condition, were evicted without compensation. Still others couldn't find a place to live. This led to the city administration allocating several plots of land for new homes. Habitat working with the city came up with a plan to build a new community. "If it wasn't for Habitat's assistance, the families in the village would have been homeless or live in substandard housing," says Negatu Woldesamayat, the Community Committee's construction supervisor.
Habitat's inclusive approach was key to the project's success. Working with the local government and beneficiaries in developing a community made the difference. In addition, culturally sensitive advisory services were offered to improve communal relations. The positive results can be seen in the improved lives and livelihoods of the residents in Debre Berhan and Woreda 8.
While there's still a long way to go, the combination of purpose and cooperation shared by the government, people, and Habitat works and is a model that will be replicated.
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