In Kore, the High Cost of Cleaning Up

A dispatch from Addis Ababa

By / May 2016

Dust dances up from litter strewn pathways that weave between makeshift homes. In the dry season, dirt sticks to exposed skin and hair. The scents of warm garbage and spicy stews mix. Rain relieves the odor but carries its own hazards. In the rainy season, the roadways become roiling muddy rivers.

The place is called Kore. It is the largest garbage dump in Addis Ababa, a place that doubles as home to many of the Ethiopian capital’s poorest people, who live among the heaps of garbage produced by Addis’ population of three million plus. As large birds circle the waste that rises as high as two story buildings, locals sift through the contents for pieces to take home to simple one-room shanties made of found materials.

In some, women sell their bodies to feed their families. Children run through the streets with torn clothing and recycled toys. The elderly struggle over rocky pathways with sticks to help them walk on limbs that have been ravaged by years of leprosy. Water is nowhere near potable, as it often mixes with the sewage that runs through the ditches along the roadside.

For all its squalor, Kore has provided a community to thousands of people for years. It has been the site of numerous programs by aid agencies and local do-gooders. Schools started by socially oriented Ethiopians have allowed many children who would never have otherwise had the chance to receive an education.

Microfinance programs have sprung up. Applicants, most of whom are women with little prospect of work, receive small loans to start businesses in the community. Healthcare workers pay regular visits to patients with HIV.

But in recent months the Ethiopian government has begun widening the road around the slum, a project that has caused massive disruption. Increased governmental regulation of Microfinance programs is making it tougher for local entrepreneurs to repay loans. Rents have risen.

As a result, some of the poorest people in one of the poorest nations on earth are now facing the very real prospect of being displaced from one of the few places that will take them.

A nearby recycling plant promises to employ locals to sort trash. But how long will the work last? A similar effort in Reppi, another garbage dump, left 3,000 people jobless in the long run. One wonders what will happen to the struggling community here. When this landfill closes, as a recent article in the Ethiopian Herald promised that it would, where will the people of Kore land?


Kaela La Farge lives and writes in Ethiopia.