Urban Issues in Developing Countries - Urbanization Ethiopia


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Urbanization in Ethiopia



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© Marcel Petersen | Utrecht | The Netherlands | January 1999

Ethiopia, located in the northeast of Africa, is one of the largest and most populous countries of the continent. It makes up most of what is known as the horn of Africa, and is bordered by Djibouti and Eritrea on the north, Somalia on the east, Kenya on the south, and Sudan on the west (see map below). The country's dramatic and diverse landscape encompasses lowlands, deserts, canyons and high plateaus. Its climate varies from very dry to very wet. An essentially rural country, Ethipia is amongst the poorest nations in the world with 60 % of its population living below the poverty line. In spite of the current change from a controlled economy toward a market economy, incomes are still for the most part extremely low throughout Ethiopia.

Ethiopia has gone through major political and social changes in the last 30 years. This period is marked by famine and civil war, mainly with an ethnic background. In 1991 the last civil war came to an end. One of the most important decision by the new government was to split Ethiopia up in 12 regions. These regions got greater autonomy in decisionmaking. Each of the regions covers the original ethnograpic boundaries of Ethiopia's main ethnic groups. Ethiopia has two city regions: Harar and Addis Abeba.

Map Ethiopia

Addis Abeba - the capital of Ethiopia - is a relatively new city compared to older religious, administrative and commercial centres like Axum, Yeha and Gondar. Addis Ababa was founded in 1881, after Emperor Menelik II had left several sites in search of food, wood and water. Addis Ababa is located in the centre of highland Ethiopia and covers some 22,200 hectares. It is a plateau region of volcanic origin where the altitude ranges from 2200 to 2900 metres (average 2438 metres) above sea level. Because of the altitude, the area has a temperate wet and dry climate.

At first sight the city seems pleasant, because of its location in the Ethiopian highlands. The "green" city, however, is also one of the fastest growing cities in Africa and suffers from the problems that go with rapid population growth and urbanization: a shortage of decent housing and a lack of basic infrastructure and a public facilities such as water, electricity and sewerage. Also, the capacity of the local government to manage the city is inadequate and crime, the number of streetchildren and homeless persons, traffic congestion and poverty is increasing. It is estimated that more than half of Addis Abeba's population (more than 1 million of the total population of about 2.1 million) is living below the poverty line. 80% of of the total population suffers from results of bad housing circumstances. Most of these families are living in the overcrowded Kebeles, renting one room for two to five Birr per month. The expenses needed for food, water and energy take more then 70 percent of their daily income.

The urban "explosion" of Addis Abeba is not difficult to understand. A high birth rate surplus, an important migration from rural areas and secondary cities to the capital, the political change in 1991 and the consequences of this change for the ex-soldiers etc. are all important aspects of an explanation for this urban explosion.

Addis Abeba is in contrast with many other cities in Ethiopia, of which the most important are: Dire Dawa, Harar, Nazareth, Gondar, Dessie, Mekele, Bahir Dar en Jimma. Although these cities also suffer from rapid population growth they are relatively small compared to Addis Abeba. None of these cities exceed the 200.000 inhabitants. Nevertheless the urban problems are comparable with the capital. Moreover, the population growth of the secundary cities has been increasing recently due to the decision to split Ethiopia up in 12 regions. This is especialy the case in the regional capitals.

In total 8.2 million people live in urban areas. This is 15% of the total population of Ethiopia. This level of urbanization is low, but the average growth of the urban population is one of the highest in Africa (15%). The table below shows the number of people living in Ethiopia's largest cities (1994).

Addis Abeba 2,112,737
Dire Dawa 164,851
Harar 131,139
Nazret 127,842
Gondar 112,249
Dessie 97,314
Mekele 96,140
Bahir Dar 96,140
Jimma 88,867

a National or regional urban development plan is lacking, just as the coordination between government institutions and policy. The government tries to decentralize and to strenghten local government. However, there are no signs of living conditions improving for most urban dwellers.


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