Ethiopia rubbish dump landslide death toll soars to 115

Damaged makeshift homes of squatters living inside the Koshe landfill in Ethiopia in this photo taken on March 12, 2017. AFP | ZACHARIAS ABUBEKER 

The death toll from a landslide at Ethiopia's largest rubbish dump in the capital Addis Ababa climbed to 115 on Thursday, among them many women and children.

Tragedy struck on Saturday when part of the largest hillside at the Koshe rubbish dump collapsed, burying a slum that had been built on the landfill.

Two bodies were uncovered on Thursday morning a day after Dagmawit Moges, a spokeswoman for the Addis Ababa city administration, told AFP that the toll from the disaster had reached 113.

Communications Minister Negeri Lencho said the majority of the dead were women, and that rescue operations are continuing.

"As far as I know, they are still searching," Lencho said, adding that he could not explain why the toll had risen so dramatically from a previous tally of 72 dead on Tuesday.

Flags were flying at half-mast across Ethiopia in memory of the victims of the disaster, which also included many children.

Koshe is the country's largest rubbish dump, and was home to a community of perhaps hundreds of people who collect and resell rubbish trucked in from around the capital city.

Living in squalor

Although one of Africa's top economic performers, with GDP growing by about 10 percent in 2015 and Addis Ababa filled with high-rise buildings and newly paved roads, Ethiopia is still one of the world's poorest countries.

The people of Koshe lived in squalor of a degree that is uncommon in the city of four million people.

Last year, the government tried to close the landfill and move it to a new location, but opposition from people living near the new site forced authorities to reverse their decision.

Addis Ababa's construction boom didn't leave Koshe untouched; a biogas plant is being built on top of the rubbish dump.

Koshe residents who spoke to AFP blamed the landslide on the facility's construction.

They said bulldozers that packed down soil to make way for the new plant destabilised the hillside.

Lencho said he could not comment on the cause of tragedy, saying an investigation was under way.

He had earlier said slum dwellers may have inadvertently caused the disaster.

The landslide spared a handful of shacks made of plastic tarps and sticks, but it appears their days are numbered.

Lencho said the government would be moving people who had built their homes on the landfill into proper housing.

Authorities would also pay for the funeral expenses of the more than 100 victims of the tragedy.

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