A landfill outside of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, buckled Saturday night, unleashing a landslide that killed at least 46 people and left dozens missing.
The majority of those killed are said to be women and children.
“My house was right inside there,” Tebeju Asres told the Washington Post as she watched excavators digging in black mud. “My mother and three of my sisters were there when the landslide happened. Now I don’t know the fate of all of them.”
The Koshe Garbage Landfill has been filling up with waste for more than five decades, but in recent years it sat inactive as the government sought new dumping locations. When a new landfill was obstructed in recent months, the government returned to Koshe, adding pressure to the mountain of trash that ultimately led to the disastrous landslide.
Scores of people had built or rented mud-and-stick homes along the landfill because it was a cheap place to live. Many of those who lived there also scavenged the massive garbage heap, searching for goods to resell or items that could be recycled for income.
The tragic landslide highlights the vast inequality that exists in Addis Ababa, and, more broadly, throughout the developing world. It also shows the hodgepodge nature of the capital city, which for years has been marked by informal settlements and improvisatory development.
Addis Ababa’s explosive growth and lack of oversight is emblematic of many of the world’s emerging megacities, from New Delhi to Beijing to Jakarta.
Landfills, in particular, are often poorly regulated and become surrounded by indigent populations who pick through the refuse for a livelihood.
Living among such extensive pollution, especially when it contaminates water sources, often causes inhabitants to contract diseases. For children under the age of five, diarrhea from polluted water sources is especially deadly.
The Addis Ababa government has vowed to resettle all survivors of the landslide, including the 37 people who were rescued and the hundreds of others who were fortunate to not be there at the time.
Officials had warned against using the Koshe Gabarge Landfill since 2010, so the casualties from the landslide are a major blight on the government’s competence.
It has been working to improve its waste management system in recent years, but hopefully this terrible event will accelerate efforts.