Followers of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church are half way through Lent. One very basic practice observed during the fasting season is the change in the eating habit of the practitioners. During this time feeding upon animal products like meat, egg, milk, cheese, butter or any derivatives of animals is strictly prohibited. Some say that seafood consumption is allowed; however, this action is highly contested by the hardcore conservative advocates of the religion as being an act o
f cheating over the long standing culture of fasting passed from generation to generation traveling through time to reach to this day. So the question remains, what does one eat during the fasting season? The answer is cereals, fruits, and vegetables. However, recent study indicates that the vegetables are grown on land potentially contaminated with polluted rivers, writes Birhanu Fikade.
As controversies surrounding river pollution remain unresolved, members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church are in the final weeks of the Lent – one of the major fasting seasons set in the church’s calendar. During the two-month period of fasting, members of this Christian denomination are required to stick to a vegetarian diet, and refrain from eating animal-derived foods, including eggs and milk.
Apart from the devout, there is also a sizable number of metropolitans who go vegan or at least choose to eat vegetables as way of lifestyle change. Stores across the length and breadth of Addis Ababa can get swarmed by customers looking for mixed salads.
But there is a problem. The vegetables that are being consumed every day in Addis Ababa are grown on land potentially contaminated with polluted rivers. There are studies conducted by the Addis Ababa University in collaboration with the Addis Ababa City Government Rivers, Riversides Development and Climate Change Adaptation Project Office. The studies indicate that rivers are polluted with industrial and domestic waste. The major industries alone discharge an equivalent to 4,877,362m3 toxic water into rivers in Addis Ababa and its environs. Accordingly, textile factories, food and beverages plants, leather and foot wear factories, rubber factories and iron and steel makers are found to be the major culprits. Especially, textiles, food and beverage, leather and foot wear industries account for 96 percent of the entire industrial waste discharged into river systems.
The city’s rivers, riversides development and climate change adaptation project office (henceforth referred to as “the project office”) claims that household or domestic waste is of greater volume than industrial waste. Walelign Dessalegn, general manager of the project office told The Reporter that 80 percent of the waste discharged into rivers originates in households. However, the waste disposal systems that factories, hospitals, hotels, printing presses and the like use are either directly connected to the rivers or simply discharge into water bodies. The studies indicate that 80 percent of the clean water originally used by industries is finally discharged as toxic waste.
Making matters worse, industrial wastes have been found to be sources of high concentrations of heavy metals such as arsenic, cobalt, cadmium, chromium, copper, mercury nickel, and zinc. Researchers have found traces of these heavy metals in many of the vegetables cultivated on land along rivers of the city. In his research paper titled “Metals in leafy vegetables grown in Addis Ababa and toxicological implications,” Fisseha Itanna of the Addis Ababa University biology department indicated that “heavy metals are known to pose a variety of health risks such as cancer, mutations, or miscarriages.” In his research focusing on rivers such as Kera and Akaki, Fisseha warns that arsenic, chromium, iron and lead are the most hazardous metals that could lead to health complications. Accordingly, vegetables cultivated along the city’s riversides such as cabbages, onions, potatoes, red beets, lettuce, Swiss chard are some of the most contaminated vegetables that have been found exposed to toxic substances that mostly contain heavy metals.