UPDATED: Over 115 killed in Ethiopian waste landslide

At least 115 people are now thought to have been killed by a landslide at a landfill site in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, with dozens more still missing.

According to a spokesperson for the city’s council, at least 75 of those confirmed dead are women, with many more children from the nearby settlements. Three days of national mourning for the victims of the disaster.

Searches for survivors after the incident at the city’s Koshe landfill on Saturday night (11 March) are ongoing, according to the Ethiopian government’s Communications Minister, Negeri Lencho, with investigations into what caused the landslide also underway. An emergency worker told Reuters on Thursday (16 March): “As the number of missing people is still high, we expect to pull more bodies out today and in the coming days.”

Locals say that around 150 people were at the site during the landslide, and residents of the area estimate that at least 80 people remain unaccounted for.

The 360,000 square metre Koshe landfill has been in use for more than 50 years. Hundreds of informal workers spend every day scavenging for useful items on the landfill, with many living in makeshift homes on the edge of the site. Addis Ababa Mayor Diriba Kuma has pledged to relocate those living on the landfill and officials say that more than 350 residents have now been moved on.

Witnesses have told the Associated Press that “a big sound” was followed by “something like a tornado”, with the landslide covering homes and buildings on the site.

Lencho said: “It’s a sad story because the government has been trying to resettle the people residing in the area.”

The landfill takes almost 300,000 tonnes of waste a year from the city’s 4.5 million residents, according to government statistics, and in recent years, the city’s council has been warning that it is running out of room to expand, with permanent housing and schools being approached by the site’s spreading boundaries.

The Koshe site (‘koshe’ means ‘dirt’ in the local dialect) was closed to new waste last year, but after a landfill in a neighbouring region was blocked by protesters, dumping had resumed in the last few months.

In 2013, plans to create an energy-from-waste plant next to the landfill site using a US$120-million investment from the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation and Cambridge Industries were finalised, with construction now well underway. The plant is expected to burn 350,000 tonnes of the city’s waste annually, instead of adding it to landfill, with the goal of supplying power to more than 30 per cent of Addis Ababa’s homes.

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