Addis Alem is a small town 50 kilometers west of Ethiopia’s capital city, Addis Abeba. The total population of its encompassing region is roughly 14,000 people, most of whom lack access to basic health provisions like clean drinking water and adequate latrines. In a country so heavily dependent on its agricultural economy, urban unemployment is deepening, especially in areas where educational opportunities are limited. This is the case in Addis Alem.
While the climate is dry and temperate for a majority of the year, the town experiences an annual rainy season. As a result, a local culvert that serves as the primary means of passage from the town center to the rural hills floods while the current bridge, already unsuitable for large loads of livestock carrying goods, washes away. Rural residents are temporarily unable to access the markets and roads and must make accommodations to survive independently until the passage has been reestablished. In a place where economic growth is still highly dependent on local vendors, restricting the flow of goods and livestock in and out of the central town becomes a community-wide issue. Following the completion of the previous phase in Ethiopia, the town expressed a need to resolve this problem so that it could reduce the safety risk that the current bridge poses and create improved economic stability for the people who depend on the crossing.
The town envisions a permanent bridge that can withstand annual climate conditions, however, it is beyond the town’s financial reach.
The EWB-UMCP Response
An assessment team, including two undergraduate students, a civil engineering professor and a professional engineer, visited Addis Alem in January of 2009. They met with local government leaders, town residents, and a professor from the University of Addis Ababa with deep connections to the community, to discuss a range of community issues that might be addressed by Engineers Without Borders. Various problem areas were identified, including a lack of water and sanitation, but it was ultimately determined that a youth center is the right first project—a decision strongly influenced by the importance given by EWB to local preferences which is essential to cultivate ownership of the project among the community and ensure proper use and routine maintenance.
A construction project also created an opportunity to address sustainable building practices in Addis Alem. The fast-growing, non-native Eucalyptus tree has become entrenched as an economic linchpin in the area and is widely used for construction and fuel. Although Eucalyptus is widely used as a strong and cheap construction material, the spread of its cultivation has had a drastic impact on the environment, draining the water table and supplanting many indigenous species. The quickening pace of building development in the nearby capital city highlights the need for safer, more innovative, and environmentally-friendly usage of Eucalyptus and alternative materials like concrete block. The construction process will incorporate design innovation that maximizes natural ventilation and lighting, ideas that are being developed with the community’s input.
In June 2009, an assessment team traveled back to Addis Alem to continue to develop a relationship with the community and prepare for a full implementation. Additional assessments related to design and construction took place during this time. The city administration completed site preparation and foundation construction by January 2010 when a team of students, professionals and faculty returned to construct one of the three buildings: the recreation center. During the implementation trip, the team successfully completed the building and provided the educational and material means for the town to complete the remaining two buildings: the coffee shop and library. Since then, the town has finished construction and furnishings on the recreation center and coffee shop, and is scheduled to complete the final library building by March 2011.
The Municipality of Addis Alem celebrated the success of the project by planning a grand opening of the buildings that took place in November 2010. The entire community was welcomed to enjoy food, drink and games at the youth center and was encouraged to use the area as a meeting center within the community. Our chapter was recognized for their efforts. On a recent assessment trip in January 2011, the team traveling was pleased to see that the finished buildings were fully functioning and lively with people.
In January 2011, the Ethiopia project team traveled back to Addis Alem to assess the feasibility of a sustainable stream-crossing project. Each year, Addis Alem has a period of heavy rainfall between the months of June and August that contributes the flooding of their local stream. Currently, the bridges and culverts in place do not survive each year. Following the completion of the recreation center in January 2010, the Municipality of Addis Alem expressed a great need to develop a solution to this problem.
On the trip, the team was able to identify a project site to build a permanent crossing that would accommodate pedestrian traffic. The site serves as a passageway to link the urban population with the rural population whom lie on either side of the stream. The team came back and spent two semesters working with a variety of professional mentors to design and plan a successful project. The team returned in January 2012 and implemented a single-span reinforced concrete bridge that spanned the 10 meters which divided the rural community during the rainy season. Recently the chapter has received pictures from the community showing the bridge in use during a flood event this past rainy season.
This current project within the Ethiopia program at EWB-USA UMCP involves making improvements to the marketplace. The community expressed concern for the way storm water and rain events affected the ability for vendors to operate their businesses during the rainy season and an increased difficulty to navigate a busy marketplace. Contamination of the vendors’ products from marketplace trash and sewage is also a problem. The project team travelled to assess the feasibility of this project in June 2012. This assessment trip led the project team to envision a multi-phased project of improving the marketplace through effective stormwater management. These efforts hope to reduce the amount of rainwater entering the marketplace watershed, provide increased cover to vendors through new stall designs, and treat runoff that would ordinarily go into a local river.
In January 2013, the team returned to Addis Alem to build a new marketplace stall, stormwater channel, and stormwater treatment facility. The stall was built as a model of potential stall improvements the community could use in their own stalls. These improvements included an integrated gutter system, greywater collection for non-potable water uses, and drainage system into a stormwater channel system. The new channel system was designed and built to accept stormwater runoff, effectively direct these flows into the treatment facility, and reduce erosion. Finally, the treatment facility uses a slow-sand filter design to clean the stormwater before it enters the local river at an outfall point.
The team traveled in July 2013 for an assessment trip to continue their partnership with the Addis Alem community. They met with several different leaders of the community to discuss the level of success of previous projects, as well as discussing potential future projects. The team conducted another implementation trip in 2016, but unfortunately had to place a moratorium on the project after civil unrest led to a travel restriction placed by the University system.