The death toll from the landslide at a massive garbage dump in Ethiopia’s capital has climbed to more than 60 people. Ethiopian government media said Monday that at least 62 people died in the weekend disaster, while Addis Ababa Mayor Deriba Kuma put the death toll at 65 — including 20 men and 45 women.
Hundreds of people live on the 50-year-old Koshe dumpsite, the city’s main landfill, in mud-and-stick shacks. Many scavenge for items that they can sell, such as recyclable metal.Residents say dozens of people are still missing after a mountain of trash at the 30-hectare dumpsite came crashing down with little warning Saturday.
“The accident was so huge that we do not know the number of people who have died and who survived,” one survivor told a VOA Horn of Africa reporter in Addis Ababa. A city spokesman said 49 dwellings were destroyed in the landslide. Hospital workers say at least 50 people have received treatment.
On Monday, rescue workers used bulldozers to move piles of trash to search for survivors. Volunteers dug through the trash with their hands. The government did not give a cause for the landfill collapse, but squatters blamed it on a biogas plant being constructed nearby.
Communication Minister Negeri Lencho told the French News Agency the plant construction did not contribute to the landslide. He blamed the squatters for digging into the trash pile and destabilizing it.
Residents say smaller collapses have occurred in previous years, but only a few people were killed. Addis Ababa’s mayor has vowed to relocate those living at the landfill in Ethiopia’s capital, a rapidly growing city of 4 million people.
Government officials had tried to close Koshe — which means “dirty” in Amharic — last year, and create a new dumpsite outside Addis Ababa. But the community there did not want the landfill, and garbage collectors resumed taking trash to Koshe.
Rights group Amnesty International said Saturday’s tragedy was preventable. It said Ethiopian officials knew the landfill was full, but continued to dump trash there and let people live and scavenge at the site.
“These people … had no option but to live and work in such a hazardous environment because of the government’s failure to protect their right to adequate housing and decent work,” the group said in a statement. It called on the government to account for the missing and provide survivors of the landslide with safe housing and working conditions.
Funeral services for the victims took place around the city Monday, with government officials in attendance. Ethiopia is one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies; however, millions of people there still live below the poverty line.