UPDATE: Death toll from landslide at Ethiopian waste dump climbs to 113

UPDATE, March 16: The death toll from a disastrous landslide at a landfill outside of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, has climbed to 113, as reported by CNN. 75 of the recovered victims were females, while 38 were males.

"This is the result of the search because this is a vast area. It is also deep. The amount (that) collapsed, it is deep, it takes time," Communications Minister Negeri Lencho told CNN. There is still no explanation for why the collapse happened, and rescue efforts will likely continue. 

UPDATE, March 15: The death toll from a landfill collapse right outside of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, has climbed to 72 following extensive rescue efforts, as reported by The Washington Post. Officials have estimated that about 300 people scavenge through waste on the site daily, therefore it is likely that the death toll could continue to rise.

The Ethiopian government has declared three days of national mourning and organized a public funeral for the victims. While the government is supporting the people of Addis Ababa during this time and working to relocate hundreds of people still living on the landfill site, many are criticizing the government for its failure in preventing this accident from happening. While the actual cause of the landslide is still undetermined, Amnesty International has pointed fingers at the government, suggesting they were aware the site was at capacity and continued to use it anyway.

Some are also pointing fingers at the development of a $120 million waste-to-energy facility on site, claiming the landfill was destabilized by its construction. However Cambridge Industries has noted to the Post that the objective of the facility is to process 85% of the city's trash and prevent future waste dumps from forming.

Dive Brief:

  • A landslide at a waste dump on the outskirts of Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, killed at least 50 and injured dozens more, as reported by CNN and other news outlets. The death toll has slowly risen since Saturday night's incident as rescue efforts continue. 
  • It is currently unclear what caused the incident, however some survivors of the landslide blame the collapse on the construction of a new biogas plant at the site. Additionally, an influx in the population of Addis Ababa has increased the amount of waste being dumped at the landfill on a daily basis. 
  • The Addis Ababa government has relocated 290 people who were unharmed by the accident to a temporary shelter. It is estimated that "hundreds" of waste pickers live in and around the 50-year-old site. 

Dive Insight:

For squatters living on open dump sites, waste picking is a way of life. These pickers — often women and children — build their homes on-site and spend their days scavenging through thousands of tons of waste for food and goods. However this lifestyle has proven dangerous — and often fatal — due to the poor site maintenance. In December 2015 this issue became international news when 73 people were killed following a landslide at a waste dump in Shenzhen, China. 

A report from the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) found, between December 2015 and June 2016, there were 750 deaths related to open dumpsites and associated health impacts. Therefore ISWA has designed a roadmap to make closing waste dumpsites a top priority of stakeholders around the world. The association recently touted progress in the mission and announced it will close the Estrutural dumpsite in Brazil within 18 months. 

While modern landfills in the U.S. have been designed and regulated to prevent these hazards, there is still opportunity for U.S. leaders to advocate for a global change. ISWA encourages engagement through educational sessions and participation in a scholarship program, and will also likely explore the topic of closing dumpsites at the 2017 ISWA World Congress/WASTECON event in Baltimore later this year. 

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Filed Under: Landfill
Top image credit: ZACHARIAS ABUBEKER/AFP/Getty Images