Community Development in Ethiopia

Working together delivers results

Ethiopia is changing. Today, it is one of Africa’s top performing economies. This has led to increasing pressure on the country’s infrastructure and communities as more people are attracted to cities in search of work and a better future. 

This is evident in Woreda 8. Just behind Ethiopia’s Parliament, Woreda 8 is one of Addis Ababa’s oldest neighborhoods with more than 40,000 inhabitants. Working together, the local government and Habitat Ethiopia have formed a Community Committee to identify the needs of the heavily congested area where residents live in houses built of mud and sheet metal. Everything, from basic toilet facilities and structural repairs to environmental issues, like the haze that frequently hangs over the area from inefficient wood and charcoal stoves, is discussed.

“Some houses are not appropriate for human beings to live in,” recalls Community Coordinator Tegene Gemuchu: “When I see these types of living conditions, we immediately contact Habitat for Humanity who understand the urgent need.” But despite some success, challenges still face this community in the capital city.

A half of the 40,000 people living in Woreda 8 do not have access to clean water and sanitation facilities.

Admas Stefanos, a 45-year old mother of four, has lived in Woreda 8 for over 30 years—virtually all of it without a toilet—is a case in point.  She and her children used to walk to a nearby river, dig a hole and hope no one saw them. “We would go to the river because the water can wash away our dirt,” she explains. “There were no toilets in the area.”

Fikirte Demisie, along with 18 other people, live nearby just off Woreda 8’s main street. In her compound’s left corner is a black plastic sheet hanging in front of a few rocks around a hole in the ground.  “We constructed our own toilet,” Fikirte explains, “but it gradually collapsed. Now, the smell is so bad it sickens our children and makes it difficult to breathe.  The teenagers are so ashamed they go to a public toilet rather than use the one here.”

Fikirte in front of her toilet
“We constructed our own toilet, but it gradually collapsed. Now, the smell is so bad it sickens our children and makes it difficult to breathe.” — Fikirte Demisie

“There are few basic services,” says Woreda 8 administrator, Desalegn Debele.  “The government is trying its best but half of the people in Woreda 8 do not have clean water and sanitation facilities.  This leads to a variety of illnesses related to poor hygiene.”  

The core issue is infrastructure.  Woreda 8 has grown without a community development plan.  Houses are built on available land, often in areas that are unsafe.  Meseret Mamo, for example, lived in a damp home alongside a river.  Every time the rains came, the roof leaked, and when the river flooded, her home’s foundation got weaker and water collected on the floor.  She didn’t have the money to repair her home or move to a new place.  Habitat Ethiopia, working through the Community Committee, rebuilt her home.  “We no longer get sick from the leaking roof and wet walls,“ Meseret says. “And we can sleep at night without worrying that our house will collapse into the river and kill us.  Now, all we have to do is rebuild our toilet that we share with 19 other families.” 

“Together with Habitat Ethiopia,” says Desalegn, “we are addressing the issues of limited access to water, lack of sanitation and poor infrastructure.  We are impressed with Habitat’s inclusive approach.” 

Children by the communal toilet
One of the communal toilets built by Habitat in Woreda 8

The situation in Woreda 8 is gradually changing but there’s still a ways to go.  Habitat Ethiopia has helped more than 5,000 people through construction of 30 communal toilet blocks, 59 water points and 28 communal kitchens; and renovation and repair of 22 homes.  In addition, Habitat has increased hygiene awareness and provided employment.  “So many people, particularly the young, have been trained and now have jobs because of Habitat,” says Desalegn. “So the impact and benefits are much greater than just building a new house.”  

Helping redevelop a community is something Habitat Ethiopia does well.  Debre Berhan, one of Ethiopia’s oldest cities and the country’s capital in the 15th century, is a prime example. The city is now the site of one the largest Habitat ‘villages’ in the world with almost 700 homes.

The work in Debre Berhan started in 2008 when Habitat Ethiopia began providing energy-saving stoves. Then, as now, women spend three to four days a week exposed to hours of excessive smoke from baking injera, Ethiopia’s traditional bread.  This resulted in increased eye and lung problems for both the women and other family members. 

The new stoves had an immediate impact.  They dramatically reduced health problems and birth defects.  They also reduced wood consumption by half.  With an average family spending more than 20 percent of its income on charcoal or wood for cooking, it meant people had more money to spend on basic necessities like food and education.  And, the stoves, produced by local merchants and others, provided much needed employment. 

Mechbezu with her new stove
Mechbezu with her new stove

At the national level, the stoves have helped reduce deforestation.  According to recent study, Ethiopia lost an average of 140,900 hectares—more than 348,000 acres—of forest per year between 1990 and 2000.  The new stoves saved trees, improved air quality, and helped ensure sustainable development.

A few years later, Habitat Ethiopia increased its presence when Debre Berhan population grew due to the increasing popularity of Arake”, a local alcohol.  Most of the city’s 85,000 citizens rely on Arake ‘industry’ for employment.  But as the city and commercial interest expanded, many families living in local government housing, already in poor condition, were evicted without compensation.  Others couldn’t find a place to live. This led to the city administration allocating several plots of land for new homes.  Habitat working with the city came up with a plan to build a new community.  “If it wasn’t for Habitat’s assistance, all of those families in the village would have been homeless or live in substandard housing,” says Negatu Woldesamayat, the Community Committee’s construction supervisor.

Habitat village Debre Berhan
Habitat village of more than 700 houses in Debre Berhan, one of the oldest cities in Ethiopia

Habitat’s inclusive approach is key.  Working with the local government and beneficiaries in developing a community makes the difference.  And, when you add in culturally sensitive advisory services aimed at improving individual and communal relations, the outcome are villages in Debre Berhan and upgraded neighborhoods like Woreda 8. 

There’s still a long way to go.  The will is there.  The government, people, and Habitat are working together.  And, lives are being transformed. 


How a stove can transform a family

About five years ago Yenenesh Deneke got a new energy efficient stove.  It changed her and her family’s lives. 

“When I cooked the old-fashioned way, the heat and smoke would hurt my eyes and burn my hands,” Yenenesh said “And, it also consumed huge amounts of firewood.” The new stove and chimney changed that.  “I no longer cough and we were able to save money because we only need half of the wood compared to the old stove.”

The savings helped Yenenesh and her husband to build two additional rooms on to their Habitat house.  They rent them out for extra income and Yenenesh has used the money to build a small shop which sells sundries like soap and biscuits.  They saved $70 from her shop’s profits to buy an electric stove.

“Investing in stoves is important,” she said. “I never realized my health was suffering and how much they can help reduce expenses.”