Buried in Ethiopian dump landslide: a young man and his dream

Civilians react as they watch the search for missing people following the landslide at the Koshe garbage dump in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa
Civilians react as they watch the search for missing people following the landslide at the Koshe garbage dump in Ethiopia's capital Addis AbabaPHOTO: REUTERS
A photo taken on March 12, 2017 shows a view of Addis Ababa from the main landfill, after the deadly landslide at the dump.
A photo taken on March 12, 2017 shows a view of Addis Ababa from the main landfill, after the deadly landslide at the dump. PHOTO: AFP
People look at the damage done to dwellings built near the main landfill of Addis Ababa on March 12, 2017, after the deadly landslide.
People look at the damage done to dwellings built near the main landfill of Addis Ababa on March 12, 2017, after the deadly landslide.PHOTO: AFP
Rescue workers watch as excavators dig into a pile of garbage in search of missing people at the landslide.
Rescue workers watch as excavators dig into a pile of garbage in search of missing people at the landslide. PHOTO: REUTERS
 Rescue workers carry the body of a victim from the landslide at the garbage dump.
Rescue workers carry the body of a victim from the landslide at the garbage dump.PHOTO: REUTERS
A rescue worker holds a photograph of children suspected to be missing at the garbage dump landslide.
A rescue worker holds a photograph of children suspected to be missing at the garbage dump landslide.PHOTO: REUTERS

ADDIS ABABA (REUTERS) - Biniam Alemeneh's father was a construction worker, but the 16-year-old Ethiopian student dreamed of becoming an engineer, inspired by his country's booming economy and the tall glass buildings mushrooming around his home city of Addis Ababa.

On March 11, the colossal mound of rubbish that dominated his neighbourhood collapsed, burying him and at least 114 others and tarnishing the government's carefully polished image of economic progress.

"It took them three days to find my boy," said Biniam's mother Kassanesh, gesturing to a framed photograph of a teenager with a toothy smile and curly mop of hair.

Residents say at least 80 people are still missing after the landslide. Hundreds of people lived next to the 50-year-old Reppi dump, known as "Koshe" or "dirty" in the Amharic language.

 

The disaster crushed dozens of homes: not just the makeshift shacks of the rubbish pickers, but also brick and concrete houses built with carefully saved cash earned during Ethiopia's recent economic expansion.

The East African country, rapidly becoming a regional powerhouse, is projected to grow by 7.5 per cent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund. Foreign investment shot up from US$500 million (S$700 million) in 2008 to US$3.5 billion in 2015.

The growth has helped pull millions of Ethiopians out of poverty, but also led to violence, as industrialisation has forced farmers from their land and the government has cracked down on political protests.

Biniam's father Tsegaye said residents had often complained to city authorities about the dump, warning it fostered disease and put local families at risk.

It was supposed to gradually close from 2015, but when garbage trucks began taking rubbish to a new site, protests erupted.

The plan to close Reppi stalled. It remained the city's only landfill site, taking in daily deliveries of trash from the city's 5 million residents.

"Whenever any problem was raised, the authorities made pledges (to move the garbage) all the time. They didn't really care," Tsegaye said as weeping mourners spilled out of the small brick house to stand under a tarpaulin stretched outside. "He did not deserve this. All he wanted to do was make it to university."

At the site on Sunday, dozens of volunteers and emergency workers scrabbled through stinking waste, vultures hovering above them. Emergency workers said it could take months to uncover all the victims.