Construction in Addis Ababa Takes Deadly Toll

Ethiopia has an elaborate construction safety code, but it remains largely unenforced, says one experienced architect

By Addis Getachew | Anadolu Agency

Addis Ababa―Etenesh is now bedridden, totally paralyzed. She fell off a building two years ago. With two children to care for, it is more than she could bear. Initially her colleagues collected some money for her.

With those funds exhausted, now she depends on her neighbors for what she and her children eat. It is a painfully miserable life she is faced with.

She met the unfortunate accident the very same day she was hired as a laborer at one building construction site in the city, Thomas Assefa, a mechanical engineer who raised funds for Etenesh, told Anadolu Agency.

The case of Etenesh is only one among many. And every day we see construction labor workers on duty, unprotected, at building sites.

The Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, a city of more than 4 million residents, is teeming with construction activities — high-rise buildings, roads, railways — but it all comes at a cost, a human cost. And the cause of it all is a lack of safety standards that need to be normally applied in the process.

Some 23 people died in 2015 alone in construction-related activities in Addis Ababa, said the city’s Fire and Emergency Services (FES).

The city saw construction of 1,232 big buildings over the past three years, and currently more than 5,000 builders have permits to do construction, according to Construction Ministry data.

With its distinctively uneven topography coupled with its vegetation and temperate climate, the burgeoning metropolis is getting rid of its shanties and replacing them with high-rise buildings and condo apartments. Condominium buildings that houses 250,000 housing units are under construction in various parts of the city.

Nigatu Mamo, the FES communications chief, told Anadolu Agency on Friday that 16 of the workers lost their lives while engaged in building, road, and rail construction.

The remaining fell in holes up to 8 meters deep meant for electricity or telephone lines in various parts of the city, which houses the headquarters of numerous regional and international organizations, including the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.

“The figure pertains only to cases reported to us, and we estimate that the number of people being killed and injured in construction could be much higher than that reported,” he said.

“The people who lost their lives at construction sites in their lines of duty are mostly laborers who came at risk of death in the process mostly of earthwork or for skyscraper projects,” he said, adding that their ages are about 18-24.

According to him, there are also deep holes that are not properly cordoned off along sidewalks that unsuspecting pedestrians fall victim to. “A blind woman was among those who lost their lives after falling into one of these roadside pits, and three other blind men were among the injured.”

Related deaths recorded in 2014 stood at five, while three people sustained injuries, he said, indicating that construction-related deaths in the city are on the rise.

“All this is preventable and the country has long issued construction safety laws and directives, all of which have largely remain unenforced,” he said.

Mahder Gebremedhin, an experienced architect who has studied construction-related safety issues, told Anadolu Agency that while the country has issued laws, directives, and guidelines forming an elaborate construction safety code, the problem is these precautions have not been implemented due to various reasons.

“One of the reasons was cost-related: contractors weren’t willing to incur additional costs on standard safety gear for their workers or scaffoldings,” he said.

“You go to any construction site, and most of the time you see only the project managers or site engineers wearing protective gear, with most of the workers going without,” he said.

“The past couple of years we are seeing improvements in terms of safety precautions at construction sites,” he said. “That should be the standard procedure at all sites to prevent deaths and injuries.”