Slum Housing in Ethiopia:

How to rebuild a capital city

The current housing crisis in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, is largely due to an escalation of the rural exodus (to urban places).

The challenge now, is to create a symbiosis between new districts and poor areas – in particular developing new programmes to rehabilitate informal settlements in Ethiopia. With 80% of the population in Addis Ababa still living in slums, and urbanisation at a rate of 8% per annum, this is a problem that will intensify if it isn’t tackled quickly.

A social mix like no other

Today, Addis Ababa is characterised by a ‘mixity’, basically people of different socio-economic backgrounds living side by side in far closer proximity than any other African city can boast.

This legacy can be traced back to the founding of the city in 1880 by the great Emperor, who had his servants, military, and gentry live in a clustered community around him. When the city grew, this original mixity expanded.

Why is this relevant today?

modernising ethiopia's slums in addis ababa

Protecting this diversity is a key challenge in the current plan to modernise the city. A much needed upgrade given the population pressure on the capital. Today’s government policy focus on turning Addis Ababa into a ‘modern metropolis’ that the country can be proud of – and that is no small task.

In a bid to tackle the growth of slums, a development strategy in 1986 prohibited the maintenance of houses without foundations. (Mostly slum and informal housing). Consequently, parts of the city were modernised, but some other parts weren’t rehabilitated. That’s why today much of our work in Ethiopia consists in bringing essential services. This includes clean water and toilets to informal settlements in Ethiopia – as well as upgrading these very slums.

Privatisation and inequalities

Poverty in Addis Ababa slums rehabilitation

The 1986 plan was around the time that free-market ideas were widely promoted to African countries. This was by international institutions such as the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and the World Bank. When the ‘Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Force’ came to power, it was hoped that the market would solve the housing shortage.

Alas, the private sector failed to deliver affordable housing on the scale required. And inflation left property prices beyond the reach of even professionals. Business districts grew, and created a widening segregation between the rich and poor. As affordable housing is often offered below market rate.  We’ve all since then learned that governments, NGOs and social businesses need to step in and guarantee a certain amount for its poorest people.

Fighting the housing crisis in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

The ‘Grand Plan’ was implemented in 2004 with the objective of fighting the shortage. But extending an entire city, building neighbourhoods, transport links, local jobs an so on, requires participation of experts from many fields. The lack of experience in coordinating everything meant that the government found it challenging to build enough houses.

The poorest families still couldn’t afford the down payment on these new condominiums. And those living in the city centre had to be evicted in order to build new homes, business districts and get rid of slums. The approach to upgrade slums wasn’t very common back then. And at Habitat for Humanity, we have always promoted rehabilitation to prevent eviction. However, when rebuilding an entire city to upgrade the general infrastructure, slums have often had to go. Even in Paris in the 1860s.

Many reports today suggest a better standard of living for residents living in condominiums. Even if others highlight a ‘chronic lack of infrastructure’ away from the city centre.

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Slums in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: the road ahead

Only 7% of houses in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia are connected to any kind of sewer system, and nearly a quarter of residents have no access to a toilet. Many properties in Ethiopia, around 35%, only have one room. This causes widespread overcrowding and with lack of sanitation, disease is rife.

More cooperation with the government, local communities and businesses is needed to create a long term plan to provide basic services (clean water, electricity, public transport) to the residents of the growing outskirts of Addis Ababa. Many families are also at risk of eviction and many teams on the ground work hard to secure their land rights.

As always, there isn’t one silver bullet to tackle these complex issues. But upgrading slums and investing in communities is an increasingly common approach which we’ve demonstrated time and again is very successful. Secondly, ensuring that if people are relocated when necessary, their needs must be integral to the process.

Ethiopia Sources:
  1. In Ethiopia, a recent survey found 80 percent of the country’s urban population live in slums, 2017
  2. Slum Redevelopment in Addis Ababa: How Can It Become Sustainable? , 2012
  3. Integrated Housing Development Program (IHDP), 2014
  4. Sanitation Practice of Slum Communities in Addis Ababa, 2016
  5. Slum Upgrading in Addis Ababa
  6. Growth In Addis Ababa Paints The Urban Poor Into A Desperate Corner , 2013

This post was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Habitat for Humanity GB and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.


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