IVD story competition runner-up: Promoting cobblestone roads in Bahir Dar City, Ethiopia
by Keffa Solomon
Bahir Dar, Ethiopia: As is well known, we are already started to witness the effects of global warming. The population of the developing world is the major victim of climate change, which is mainly caused by the developed world.
This does not mean that developing countries have nothing to do to reverse the situation. Instead, they have to do their homework as part of the fight against global warming.
The city where I am working as a UNV volunteer is called Bahir Dar. Every year, its temperature is becoming more and more hot and humid. It is becoming more and more difficult to walk around the city at daytime due to the increasing temperature and dust emerging from the earth roads.
The increasing construction of tarmac or concrete asphalt roads has aggravated the situation considerably. Aware of this situation, as a UNV volunteer I decided to contribute my part to change this alarming situation in the city through promoting cobblestone road construction.
I was happy and enthusiastic to become a UNV volunteer and promised to myself to do whatever it may take to accomplish my assignment. One of the works identified at that time was the introduction of cobblestone road construction in the city, which I believed could contribute to mitigating the effects of global warming on the city and provide better surfaced roads.
Cobblestone roads are advantageous to developing country urban centres. Among other things, the advantages include; they are environmentally friendly; create substantial job opportunities; are cheaper in cost compared to tarmac or asphalt roads; use local raw materials; are long lasting; easily maintainable; and do not require skilled manpower.
In light of this, I realized that for cities like Bahir Dar, where the temperature is rising alarmingly, the unemployment rate is high and the young population makes the highest proportion of its population, the cobblestone project can make a difference.
With regard to materializing this project, the first thing that had to be done was to convince the municipal leadership to accept and support the project. I prepared a presentation document incorporating the advantages, my international exposure and literature reviews to win the hearts and minds of the leadership.
After getting acceptance, a task force was established with the responsibility of implementing the project. The task force started the work by identifying potential beneficiaries, organizing training and awareness creation among the citizens.
The UNV volunteer expert has played the leading role in the awareness creation campaign that has directly involved more than 3,000 residents through public meetings and workshops and more than 100,000 residents through radio and television programmes. After doing the aforementioned preparation work, the cobblestone road construction project started in mid 2008.
The cobblestone road has decreased the temperature dramatically; reduced the dust that caused different diseases; and rainwater, which caused erosion before, can easily go down through the joints of the cobblestones and enriches the amount of ground water.
The project has also achieved remarkable economic successes that have dramatically changed the lives of vulnerable residents. The cobblestone project has created job opportunities for more than 7,500 residents of the city of which 46 percent were women. About 200 disabled citizens, 300 street boys, a significant number of commercial sex workers and other vulnerable citizens are amongst those who have benefited from the job opportunities.
The environment has improved in areas where the project is realized. The beneficiaries now have regular incomes and decent lives. They started to invest in housing, on household materials, on clothing, on entertainment, on savings, on education, and on supporting their families, which were unreachable before they engaged in this project.
Some of the beneficiaries even have started other supplementary businesses to maximize their income. Some of the beneficiaries have formed cooperatives and made contract agreements with the municipal government to construct cobblestone roads.
Apart from the social and economic achievements, the city has benefited by changing the dusty road to attractive cleaner and better quality roads, which has changed the landscape of the city significantly. About 10km of road has been constructed in one year and the city has decided to construct much more in the coming years involving potential development partners on top of its own budget. The German Technical Cooperation (GTZ), the World Bank and UNDP have already shown their interest and started to support the project.
Cobblestone roads are far cheaper than concrete asphalt roads. Five kilometres of cobblestone road can be constructed at the cost of only one kilometre of asphalt concrete. The other advantage is that cobblestone does not require foreign currency, and the raw materials are found in and around the city.
The security situation of the city has significantly improved for this project has now given job opportunities for those who were earlier involved in problem-making and criminal activities.
The multiple advantages of the cobblestone road project make it an exemplary achievement that can be replicated in other cities and countries as well.
Cobblestone road construction is indeed a success history in Bahir Dar. All the environmental, economic and social achievements have proved its effectiveness in the fight against urban poverty. As a UNV volunteer, it makes me proud to be part of the leading actors that have brought this success and above all it has proved the strong determination of UNV volunteers to serve the community.
It has really proved that volunteerism can make a difference in our community with regard to the environment as well. UNV’s name is now triumphant amongst the Bahir Dar residents.
Finally, I want to thank the international and country offices of UNDP/UNV for giving me the opportunity to serve the environment and the community.
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