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Ethiopia’s plastic-bag women

recycle, reuse

revitalise

Sorting out one problem can help to diminish others. Joanna stavropoulou reports on the women of Addis Ababa who are cleaning up their community and their lives

Photographs JO ANNA STAVROPOULOU

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, is a city with all the problems of the underdeveloped world. Eighty per cent of its houses do not have electricity or running water, while at the same time it is plagued by the developed world’s biggest problem – pollution. In the city named Africa’s capital because the African Union’s headquarters are here, the most visible form of pollution is the plastic bag. Cheap, thin plastic bags are everywhere: in the rivers, on the streets and in the treetops. When they clog the waterways they create bacteria-infected cesspits that further contaminate the already unclean water. As they litter the ground and are buried under layers of mud during the rainy season, they leach further toxic waste into the soil. Almost as abundant are the city’s destitute

women – not surprising, in a country whose per capita income is 80 euros a year. They beg on the streets, they sleep with their children in muddy corners under pouring rain. They become prostitutes, charging the equivalent of 50 cents per visit. They are abused, they are HIV-positive and, on average, they give birth to six children each. One organisation in Addis Ababa is trying to clean up the first problem by giving the street women some kind of hope.

A world of wAste SOS Addis is a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that was created by Ethiopians who had lived abroad and, having returned to their home country, wished to help somehow. The full name of the organisation is SOS Addis tefetron bemalimat bkleten masweged mahiber

(abbreviated as TBBMM). In Amharic, Ethiopia’s official language, this means Nature Nurtured, Harm Reduced. Through its recycling programme, it is cleaning up the urban environment while giving some form of employment to desperate women who have no other means of income. ‘One has to do something about it,’ says Kiros Wolde-Giorghis, founder and driving force behind SOS Addis, about the trash in the city. ‘Every day it gets worse.’ According to the group, 70 per cent of Addis Ababa’s waste is not adequately disposed of: bins are left uncollected, household rubbish is dumped directly in rivers and trash is tossed by people wherever they happen to be. Most people would be hard pressed to find a rubbish bin anywhere in this country, anyway. Any material that is not degradable,

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