The usually warm weather of the city of Dire Dawa feels even more intense these days. Aware of the growing problem, the city’s administration health office has issued a warning that people should take extra care during the hottest part of the day.
Global warming is becoming an ever-more pressing issue and its effects are being felt everywhere, including in Ethiopia. The World Health Organization said recently that the number of people exposed to severely warm temperatures have increased by 125 million in the last two decades.
Excessive heat can of course affect people’s health. If exposed for long periods to uncontrolled heat, it can be fatal especially if a person has diabetes or heart disease.
“People of the city need to take extra care of themselves in this unusually warm weather,” said Sintayehu Debesa, the city’s Public Relations Officer.
Dire Dawa used to be a windy city with temperatures that didn’t rise above 34 and 35 degrees, according to senior residents. However, the weather is getting hotter every year and, at times, reaches up to 40 degrees.
Extra care should be taken for the elderly, children, and people with cardiac and respiratory problems, according to the warning from the city health office.
The people of Dire Dawa are urged to drink more water and not to cover up when asleep. Children and mental health patients shouldn’t be left alone when the heat gets stifling, stated the health office.
The administration is giving citizens saplings to plant. Sintayehu stressed the need to work more on green legacy initiatives and encouraged people to follow advice to plant and nurture more trees.
Robel Gizachew (MD), a physician at Dire Dawa Delt Hospital, noted that the temperature in the city these days is getting higher.
He says, “Our body tries to maintain its own temperature when the outside environment gets very hot. However, this is not easily possible for people with high blood pressure, diabetes and heart diseases. Very old people and infants are also at risk during such times.”
Dr. Robel explained what should be done on individual, community and city administration levels. Keeping alcohol and coffee intake less is advised, according to him. He also recommended that people should keep their bodies cool, drinking more water and avoiding eating proteins as protein increases body temperature.
Henok Kassu is an engineer working in the construction sector in Dire Dawa. He says the heat should be taken into consideration when houses are built in the city. Ceilings should be high and the front of a house shouldn’t face the sun, he says.
The national green legacy initiative member and organizer, Adefris Worqu (PhD), said the relationship between trees and climate change is vital. “A place with tree shades is cooler by 11 to 20 degrees than a place without trees. Apart from their shades, trees take water out of the ground and breathe it out through their leaves. This means they breathe small particles out. Those particles are water and that helps the area to cool down,” he said.
According to Adefris, international studies show that the climate is getting warmer globally. One reason for this is the atmosphere around us is being suffocated with carbon dioxide, making the earth warmer.
Moreover, deforestation adds to global warming. This is why forestation works must be continued, Adefris pointed out.
“Twenty years ago, people relaxed under the canopies of Kezira when it was impossible to move around other areas of the city. It was a showcase for the importance of planting trees in hot places like Dire Dawa,” Adefris said.
The trees of Kezira, though not totally destroyed, are decreasing because they are not being taken care of. Some are cut for electric line installation and others for security. Walking through Kezira is not as relieving and picturesque as it once was.
These trees are planted on roadsides. They don’t have responsible people taking care of them like trees planted in parks and residences. And it’s a usual scene to witness Kezira trees getting cut or uprooted.
Born and raised in Kezira, Walelign Mekonnen has been trying his best to get his once beautiful neighborhood back to its old glamor for the past decade. “I started this without much knowledge about gardening. But I saw Kezira’s trees being cut down and not looked after properly and I felt I had to do something. I started cleaning the area first and went on with planting trees. Now I'm a full-time gardener.”
Planting more trees is vital for Dire Dawa as the city is frequently affected by heat waves and flooding.
Dire Dawa had a good name in relation to trees because of Kezira. Kezira was initially a resident area for the French engineers who built the Ethio-Djibouti railway. This place attracted the attention of many singers who have immortalized Kezira in their music at different times.
The verses in Neway Debebe and Hamelmal Abate’s duet song bring up Dire Dawa:
My heart races and reaches you,
Lies under the canopies of Kezira
The Ethiopian literary giant, Laureate Tsegaye Gebre Medhin, marvels in the paradox of Dire Dawa’s beauty under the canopies and the unbearable heat in one of his poems:
Dire Dawa, bright inside
Enclosed, like Abadir’s fabric
Lustrous, like Far East lights
The canopies of your highways,
Shading you from the flashes of your fever.
The city administration has announced recently its readiness for the launching of the 4th round tree planting campaign. One of the seedling centers (husbandry) the federal government has set up is found in Dire Dawa. This center, built with more than 5 million birr, is believed to contribute to the city’s greening efforts.
Dire Dawa city Forestry and Climate Change Authority director, Masresha Yimer, has disclosed that more than two million saplings will be planted in this year's planting campaign.
Isayas Aliy, the city’s Agriculture, Water, Mining and Energy office deputy officer, says planting trees and taking care of them is an existential concern for the people of Dire Dawa. “For this reason, we will make sure every resident of the city will take responsibility for the planted trees,” said the deputy officer.
In the past three years, 4.3 million saplings were planted in Dire Dawa, with 68% of them growing well. In this year’s campaign, 1.2 million tree seedlings are ready to be planted, according to Isayas.
Indigenous saplings of fruit and shade trees are distributed to 26 centers by Dire Dawa Agriculture Office, said Ato Mamush Zewudie, the authority’s Forest Development group leader.
Edited and co-written by Hiwot Walelign