Barriers to, and opportunities for off-grid sanitation provision in the rapidly urbanizing city of Mekelle, Ethiopia: Reimagining human waste as “brown gold” for environmental management and livelihood improvement

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Kifle Woldearegay , James Ebdon , Diogo Gomes Da Silva, Lyla Mehta, Solomie Gebrezgabher, Alan Nicol, Tanvi Bhatkal


Inappropriate or poorly constructed sanitation is becoming one of the major challenges confronting rapidly urbanizing cities in the global south such as Ethiopia. This study was carried out to understand the sanitation and solid waste management challenges present in the city of Mekelle, in order to identify opportunities for sustainable faecal and solid waste management. This involved conducting: (a) a review of previous studies, (b) field and laboratory investigations (water and faecal sludge quality), (c) assessments of the status of existing sanitation services, (d) analysis of hydrogeological connectivity between septic tanks and surface & ground waters, (e) participatory assessments of solid waste management issues, and (f) identification of good practice in terms of sustainable waste management. Our findings revealed that the water supply coverage in 2021 only reached 67.3% of the population with water mainly from treated groundwater wells and surface water (dam); with some communities using untreated water from other sources. Though 65.8% of the households were found to have access to toilet facilities, sanitation remains a major challenge due to multiple inter-related factors: (i) open defecation, (ii) dumping of liquid and solid waste into surface waters, and (iii) lack of maintenance of the municipal faecal sludge treatment facilities. Our study highlighted contamination pathways likely to be impacting shallow wells, streams/rivers and springs in the city. In order to reduce water consumption and promote sustainable circular waste management the following emerging practices should be supported and up-scaled: urban agriculture, green space development, waste separation at source, organic waste reuse, and support for small businesses involved in waste management. If the full benefits of sustainable waste management are to be recognized in Mekelle, then appropriate policies, strategies, and regulatory frameworks need to be developed and implemented, along with governmental support for capacity building and local innovation.



Higher Education


Circular economy, Urban agriculture, WaSH, Climate change adaptation, Waste management.


Published: 2023-06-08 16:56


CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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Conflict of interest statement:
No competing interest.