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International Day of Disabled Persons 2005 - Disabled people in Ethiopia: Making public services work for poor people

Most of Addis Ababa's estimated 3 million population lives in slums and informal settlements. While 24 per cent of housing units have no toilets at all, 45 per cent share pit latrines. Earlier this year, the President of Ethiopia officially opened the first of 30 modern public shower and toilet facilities run by a cooperative of disabled persons in Addis Ababa with the support of the ILO. The innovative proposal by the Ethiopian Federation of Persons with Disabilities (EFPD) to renovate existing toilets and unlock the economic potential of unemployed people with disabilities won a World Bank Development Marketplace Competition prize in 2003.

Article | 01 December 2005

ADDIS ABABA (ILO online) -Abaynesh Gebeyehu Damtew, a 20-year-old disabled woman from the north of Ethiopia left her home town of Alamata eight years ago to get medical treatment in the capital. She has not seen her family since.

"My family did not need me because of my disability. In the place where I was born there was no disabled people's organization. There was no awareness about disability. You cannot find support and services", she explains.

Having completed her medical treatment, Abaynesh became a member of the National Association of the Physically Handicapped. She wears a short brace, below her right knee, due to her disability caused by polio. Despite her mobility difficulties Abaynesh attends late evening classes at Basilios Primary and Junior High School.

"I must learn today in order to change my life tomorrow", she says. "Rather than sitting idle working also gives a meaning to my life". Before the classes, she attends a skill training course to become a tailor four days a week from 8 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. and works as a cleaner at one of the 30 public toilet blocs managed by the Yenegew Sew Sanitary Service Cooperative from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m.

The Cooperative was formed after the proposal by the Ethiopian Federation of Persons with Disabilities (EFPD) to renovate existing toilets and create jobs for unemployed people with disabilities had won one of the World Bank's prizes after having been selected among the 186 finalists from the over 2,700 proposals submitted.

The objective of the World Bank's Development Marketplace (DM) Global Competition is to identify and fund the most innovative ideas in development from around the world. The theme for the 2003 DM Competition was "Making Public Services Work for Poor People".

A story of change in Ethiopia

The EFPD officially started to implement the DM project in January 2004. The modern public shower and toilet facilities run by the Cooperative serve the main market area of Addis Ababa and fill a vacuum in public sanitation facilities in other areas of the city as well.

"Existing public toilets were inadequate, unevenly distributed with design problems. Public toilet misuse and vandalism were common. Before the project started, only 28 of 72 public toilets were operational", explains Fisiha Belay, the General Manager of EFPD, adding that "squatting latrines, defecting in open space and "flying toilets" (plastic bags) are widespread."

But EFPD not only renovated 28 existing toilets and constructed two new blocs, including the installation of 72 showers and one pilot laundry. The organization also established the Cooperative providing jobs to 250 unemployed persons with visual, hearing and mobility impairments as well as ex-leprosy patients and mothers of children with mental retardation.

The Cooperative provides a toilet service for Birr 0.25 (US$0.03) per visit per user and shower service for Birr 1.00 (US$0.12). "In Addis Ababa city the paying for public toilet services is relatively new, but the responsiveness of the inhabitants is encouraging and expected to increase", says Belay.

"We are only worried about the relatively long lead time required to get a vacuum truck from the city administration to empty the septic tanks, and the interruption of services whenever the tanks are full … together with EFPD the disabled persons' cooperative has prepared a proposal for the purchase of a vacuum truck", he continues.

Cooperative leaders received management training and went on a study tour to Tanzania where they learnt how to run toilets as a public utility service from an ILO supported urban waste management project in Dar es Salaam.

The ILO and Development Cooperation Ireland (DCI), the official international aid programme of the Irish government, provided training in support of the public toilet project in Addis Ababa through an existing ILO-DCI project "Developing entrepreneurship among women with disabilities" which promotes entrepreneurship among women with disabilities in the city of Addis Ababa and Amhara and Tigray Regions of Ethiopia.

The ILO promotes equality of opportunity and treatment for persons with disabilities in vocational rehabilitation, training and employment, as reflected in ILO Convention No. 159 concerning Vocational Rehabilitation of Employment of Disabled Persons, 1983, and the ILO Code of Practice on Managing Disability in the Workplace adopted in 2001.

Support is provided to policy-makers, social partners and disabled persons' organizations in the design and implementation of vocational training and rehabilitation programmes, as well as the formulation and implementation of policy and legislation to ensure equality of opportunity and treatment of persons with disabilities in training and employment. Technical cooperation projects are an important means of demonstrating how these principles can be implemented in practice.

"People with disabilities are frequently trapped in a vicious circle of marginalization, poverty and social exclusion, and positive action is needed to assist them in breaking out of it. The public toilet project in Addis Ababa not only helps to overcome barriers which disabled people face in getting jobs and taking their place in society, it also makes public services work for the rest of the poor", concludes Barbara Murray, ILO Senior Specialist on Disability.