The Akaki River is a part of the Awash River catchment, which drains the central and
eastern part of Oromia. The river consists of two main branches, the confluence of
which is at the Aba-Samuel reservoir. The western branch of the river, the Little Akaki,
rises north-west of Addis Ababa on the flanks of Wechacha mountain and flows for 40 km
before it reaches the reservoir. The eastern branch of the river, the Great Akaki, rises
north-east of Addis Ababa and flows into Aba-Samuel reservoir after 53 km.
The Akaki River is used as open waste disposal site for the city of Addis
Ababa. Apart from its unfortunate fact, the river is also used as a
source of drinking water for the rural population living outside Addis Ababa and Akaki.
Furthermore, vegetables consumed in the nearby cities are also produced using polluted waters
from the river. The region, especially the Akaki–Aba-Samuel wetlands, is also of particular
ecological use. According to Birdlife International, the Akaki - Aba-Samuel
important for supporting wintering water birds, over 20,000 being present occasionally.
Video: The Akaki River Runs Red, Blue, Sometimes Yellow
Polluted water from a tannery mixing with the Akaki River (Photo: Flickr)
Most of the industries in Ethiopia are located in Addis Ababa and the nearby town of Akaki,
a region where the Akaki River drains. According to a study by Mebratu D. in 1990 and
2000, only 6 and 20% of the industries in and around Addis Ababa had treatment plants,
respectively. The rest of the industries have been discharging their effluents into the Akaki
River without any form of treatment. These include effluents discharged from: textiles,
metal, food, soft beverage and tanneries. Most of these industries discharge their waste
directly into these rivers, the volume of liquid waste generated from each industry varying
from 1 to 1000 m3/day (Benoist, 2002).
Domestic waste is another major source of pollution for the Akaki River. According to the
Health Bureau of Addis Ababa Administration, the collection of waste during the year 1996
was 54% of the total waste generated (Adane B, 1999; Enda Ethiopia and Preceup, 1999).
Apart from the leachate from solid waste, sewage waters also flow directly or indirectly into
the Akaki River, due to a limited sewerage system present in the cities.
Currently, the Akaki River is extremely polluted - one of the most polluted river
systems in the country. BOD (Biochemical Oxygen Demand) measurements show that the river is
anaerobic, for most of its parts. Assessment of the fauna also reveals the only species to
be found are worms that could survive under low oxygen conditions (Tubifex Tubifex i.e.
red worms). Apart from the low oxygen level the elevated level of nitrite, some trace
elements (Pb and Mn) and some toxic compounds (dioxin-like and estrogen-like
compounds) observed in the little Akaki River indicates there is a threat to the ecosystem.
In these locations, the high levels of Cr, Pb, NO2 and dioxin-like compounds also indicate
risks to human health (Teklehaimanot RR, 2003). High build up metals i.e. arsenic in Swiss
chard (Beta Vulgaris Var Circa L.) and chromium in lettuce (Allium Cepa L.) observed in a
number of farms in the Akaki area suggest possible human health risks via food
consumption. The observed level of iron and lead is also a reason for concern (Fisseha I,
Litters of plastic bags and household waste along the banks are also a common sight.
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