Cobblestones are Creating Jobs and Empowering Ethiopia’s Urban Poor
[24 March 2014] -- Faced with fast-growing cities, inadequate urban infrastructure, and a large youthful population in need of employment, the Ethiopian Government turned to an innovative solution: Cobblestone road production throughout the country, driven by community participation and local materials.
In recent years, cobblestone road creation has become one of the most successful infrastructure and job creation programmes in the country, with tremendous benefits for the urban poor. It has created hundreds of thousands of jobs, greatly improved urban mobility, and built collaborative relationships between communities and local authorities.
The investments in cobblestone roads have also attracted international attention. In 2013, UN-Habitat awarded the Ethiopian Ministry of Urban Development, Housing and Construction (MUDHCo) with a prestigious Scroll of Honour Award for the initiative.
The initiative was supported jointly by the German Development Cooperation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is funding cobblestone road production in eight secondary cities throughout the country. The project is being implemented by MUDHCo in partnership with the German Organisation for International Cooperation (GIZ) and the German Development Bank KfW.
Transforming local economies with cobblestones
Cobblestone paving makes perfect sense for Ethiopia’s burgeoning urban roads. It is labour-intensive, creating jobs as well as opportunities for construction entrepreneurs. It uses natural and local materials that are plentiful. It is also cost-effective compared to concrete and asphalt roads, easy to maintain and has a much longer lifespan. Moreover, it is easy to replicate elsewhere, because the investment needed is relatively small and production skills are easy to learn.
Initiated and coordinated by the federal government as part of its Leveraging Urban Spending to Maximise Benefits of the Urban Poor (LUSUP) initiative, the cobblestone project is implemented by local communities themselves. Community representatives accompany city administrations to practice the job tender procedures, and they are assisted in monitoring the construction quality.
Training centres ensure that the competing micro and small enterprises acquire the skills needed for chiseling, paving, and project management – key capacities if the cobblestone project is to turn temporary job creation into permanent employment. Citizens monitor and oversee the cobblestone road construction, fostering strong community ownership.
These changes are transforming Ethiopia’s city marketplaces into better connected, economically vibrant places. People are able to move around cities more easily, both in vehicles and on foot. Public transportation and solid waste management collectors are able to reach previously unreachable neighbourhoods. Flooding has diminished during the rainy season, and residents have a much healthier environment than with the old dirt roads. Small enterprises are opening for business, and investment in private homes is rising.
Empowering women and youth through jobs
The urban poor have benefited tremendously from the initiative, especially youth and women. Of the 489,000 new jobs created, between 40-45 percent of the jobs have been filled by women. Many participants are previously unemployed youths, who have now obtained new skills and livelihood strategies as part of the project. This employment has helped given them a sense of empowerment and community pride.
“The women in the communities we spoke to were often the most vocal in their appreciation for the project, which provided them with additional income, skills, and helped free up time from the ‘double burden’ of unpaid care work in the home,” said Nicola Demme, Programme Manager of the GIZ LUSUP Project. Demme visited several work sites this past February with a Cities Alliance team who is providing technical advisory services and grant portfolio management oversight to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grants in the country.
Peter Maats of the German Development Bank KfW was also struck by women’s enthusiasm for the project. “One woman in Yirgalem city expressed delight that she didn’t have to rely on her husband as much for livelihood and income now that she had participated in the project, and that her daughters also wanted to be trained in similar skills,” he noted.
The cobblestone project has valuable lessons for other countries interested in pursuing a similar approach. They are:
The Cities Alliance has a growing portfolio in Ethiopia, which has been a member since 2006. The partnership has supported the establishment and operation of the Ethiopian Cities Network, the development of an integrated urban database, and a State of the Cities Report, among others.
Ethiopia has also been a key player in the process of formulating a Cities Alliance Africa Strategy, hosting the initial meeting to in Addis in March 2013. The relationship is expected to strengthen even further in coming years, as Ethiopia has expressed interest in becoming the next Cities Alliance Country Programme.