Three days of national mourning began Wednesday for the victims of a catastrophic landslide at the Ethiopian capital’s main garbage dump that left at least 72 bodies buried under a wall of trash and dirt, mostly women and children.

By Paul Schemm (The Washington Post) |

This year has not been kind to Ethiopia, including widespread popular unrest, drought in many parts of the country, a cholera outbreak and stampede at a culture festival. Yet the deaths at the Addis Ababa landfill on Saturday stands out as a sobering counterpoint to the country’s boasts of economic progress.

Ethiopia’s government for the last decade has tried to put behind the familiar cliches in Western minds of famine and poverty. The numbers help their case. Ethiopia has one of the best-performing economies in Africa. But 30 percent of Ethiopia’s population still lives below the poverty line.

The changes are especially apparent in Addis Ababa, which was once little more than an overgrown village with a few government buildings. The city is now sprouting with glass and metal skyscrapers ringed by affluent new neighborhoods catering to an emerging middle class.

But the landfill tragedy is a reminder that the slums and shantytowns are still there, too. One of them was built amid the artificial mountain of garbage, where people scrap out a living combing through the refuse. Late Saturday, they heard a roaring sound. The garbage mountain suddenly gave way, sweeping away makeshift homes and burying dozens.

The growth of the capital has often outstripped efforts to manage it, creating hazards like the half-century-old landfill of Reppi, also known as Koshe or dirt in Ethiopia’s Amharic language.

Continue reading this story on The Washington Post
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