Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Radiation threatens 40/60 site

The planned 40/60 housing construction by Addis Ababa’s City Administration Housing Development Agency, set to be constructed in the Kality area, faces a potentially hazardous radioactive problem.

The selected site is close to a radiation generating nuclear machine, undertaking research to eradicate the tsetse fly, The Reporter learnt.

According to the city's housing agency, the Kality site is a total of 5.4 hectares and will have 14 blocks with 282 houses under the 40/60 housing scheme.

The agency said it is considering whether the radioactivity will have an effect on the housing.

Head of communications at the agency, Yohannes Abayneh, told The Reporter that only one block from the planned construction would be close to the Southern Rift Valley Tsetse Eradication Project Ethiopia (STEP) site, and the administration is considering possible precautionary action.

Though the city administration has already begun construction of the houses, it's still at an early enough stage to give time to reconsider the project, especially as it's aimed at delivering housing for residents in a safe place and in better living conditions.

For the past few years the government of Ethiopia has initiated a program to eradicate the tsetse fly from a 25,000 sqkm area in the Southern Rift Valley.

According to documents obtained from the Ministry of Science and Technology, the government has selected the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) to be used as the final component of the eradication, because of its “non-polluting and environmentally friendly nature”.

The SIT is a key strategy to achieve eventual elimination, involving flies that are reared and sterilized via irradiation and released to mate with wild insects, thereby breaking the reproductive cycle.

It is understood that the project to battle the livestock-menacing tsetse flies started last year in a laboratory in Kality, on the outskirts of the capital, behind the Crown Hotel.

Despite this, the housing agency selected the site at a location very close to STEP. The equipment found in a laboratory, recently purchased from India, is approximately less than 100 meters away from the site.

Sources told The Reporter that there is no barrier to stop the radiation from affecting people anytime in the future.

It's been more than a decade since Ethiopia had a gamma cell machine, capable of generating large amounts of radioactive rays that have the potential to bring fatal and hazardous consequences.

Funded by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and the government of Finland, the multimillion dollar STEP was established to eradicate the tsetse fly from Ethiopia and the whole of Africa, through the continuous and mega-scale sterilizing of tsetse flies.

Due to its higher radioactivity, the machine is to be erected in a huge underground bunker that will be filled with a large amount of water.

The capacity of the new machine is not limited to less than 100 meters, and the exact radiating capacity or model, as well as the radius it can cover, has not been confirmed. But The Reporter learnt that the machine was purchased from India, as Canada and other unmentioned countries were not willing to sell the machine, expressing Ethiopia's low capacity to handle the technology.

A senior government official spoke to The Reporter, on the condition that both his name as well as organization remained anonymous, saying that his office is very aware of the concern of those experts who work on the project areas in Kality's STEP premises. However, he indicated that their anxiety is exaggerated but is aware of the panic surrounding nuclear radiation.

He added that he had knowledge of the city's housing administration selecting the Kality site for its 40/60 housing scheme, despite its proximity to the STEP compound. This official expressed his surprise that the administration came up with the decision to choose the site without consulting other stakeholders.

“This is the usual problem in our country,” he told The Reporter. “Whenever any institution plans or intends to begin any huge but important development projects, there is no coordination among various stakeholders, whether one's work is either important for another or one's project is harming others.”

According to the anonymous official, a former machine was imported from Canada. After this machine completed its project, the country had to import another one. But this time Canada expressed that it was unwilling to give the latest technology, claiming that the nuclear machine was too high-tech and possessed a capacity that Ethiopia would not be able to handle. He pointed out that other developed nations were unwilling to either donate or to sell it to Ethiopia.

The tsetse fly is only found in Africa and poses threats to both humans and livestock. The blood-sucking fly spreads a parasite which causes trypanosomiasis that attacks the central nervous system. In humans the disease is commonly called sleeping sickness, while with  cattle and other livestock it is known as nagana.