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Op-ed: How urban redevelopment is changing Addis Abeba's health outlook

(Photo: Addis Abeba Mayor’s Office)

By Ledet Muleta

Addis Abeba – In Addis Abeba, the new corridor development project is poised to bring about significant changes to the city, enhancing both the economy and the wellbeing of its residents. This development project is transforming the urban landscape into a more efficient, accessible, and livable environment. One of the primary advantages will be the overall improvement in transportation infrastructure, which will reduce traffic congestion, shorten travel times, and enhance connectivity. These improvements will facilitate smoother daily commutes for residents and foster greater economic activity by supporting the efficient movement of goods and services. The modernized infrastructure will also attract more investments, contributing to the city’s economic growth and development.

A key focus of these developments is their benefits from a public health perspective. The corridor development went to the heart of the shanty areas that were not healthy for residents, especially young children, pregnant women, and people with health conditions.  Having worked in the field of public health for over two decades, I would like to highlight how this project will improve Addis Abeba’s general health outlook and how it can act as a model for other developing cities with the desire to put their citizens’ health at the forefront.  

The city administration has undertaken ambitious measures to make the city more attractive to both tourists and locals. A significant expansion of sanitation services has led to visibly cleaner streets, improved waste disposal facilities and ensured the city with better waste management. Additionally, initiatives like the Prime Minister’s Green Legacy Program have played a vital role in enhancing the city’s aesthetics, turning what was once a heavily polluted urban center into a more breathable and pleasant environment.  Clean Streets, Healthy Lives,” a new initiative by the prime minister aims to enhance the standard of living for residents by installing public restrooms. This project marks a significant public health milestone for a city that has long struggled with scarcity of public restrooms, often resulting in citizens using public spaces for sanitation needs.

Safe Infrastructure

Addis Abeba is enhancing its housing quality by upgrading aging buildings and constructing modern ones. This initiative can prevent public health issues, such as lead and asbestos exposure, which are commonly associated with older buildings. Unrenovated structures are particularly dangerous for children, exposing them to a variety of respiratory and developmental issues.  According to the World Health Organization, in 2012, environmental factors were responsible for 1.7 million deaths in children under five. These included 570,000 deaths from respiratory infections, 361,000 from diarrhea, 270,000 from neonatal conditions, 200,000 from malaria, and 200,000 from unintentional injuries.

(Photo: Addis Abeba Mayor’s Office)

Ensuring the durability and safety of infrastructure is also crucial in a metropolis like Addis Ababa.  In addition to shielding occupants from the immediate risks of structural breakdowns, durable buildings also promote stability and public safety over the long run. For persons who may be more sensitive to structural incidents, such as the elderly and the disabled, this is especially important. The city seeked to establish a safe residential environment by placing a high priority on the structural integrity of buildings, thereby reducing the dangers associated with outdated dangerous housing.

Active Lifestyle

An active lifestyle plays a crucial role in promoting a healthier society by reducing the risk of chronic diseases, and enhancing overall well-being. Regular physical activity is associated with numerous health benefits, including the prevention and management of conditions such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and certain cancers.  Parks and recreational centers are fundamental in fostering an active lifestyle within communities. These spaces provide accessible and safe environments where individuals of all ages can engage in various forms of physical activity. Parks offer open spaces for walking, jogging, and cycling, as well as facilities for sports and playgrounds for children. These spaces promote social cohesion and community well-being, as they become gathering places where people can connect, share experiences, and participate in group activities. Furthermore, the natural settings of parks can provide a relaxing and rejuvenating environment that supports the interaction of humans and nature which is known to be beneficial.  By acting as hubs for social interaction, experience sharing, and group activities, these areas promote community well-being, social cohesiveness, and overall improve public health. 

Parks and recreation areas play a central role in the city’s latest development project, reflecting its commitment to enhancing sustainability and environmental friendliness. Championing the Green Legacy project, Addis Ababa is integrating these principles into every facet of its development initiatives. The city administration is actively creating green spaces and recreational facilities to promote physical activity among residents.  A concerted effort to enhance pedestrian and cycling infrastructure is clearly injected in the execution of the corridor development.  Ample space is being allocated for cycling lanes and pedestrian walkways, aiming to improve accessibility and make commuting more friendly and efficient and reducing congestion from automobiles.  Newly constructed bike lanes and pathways encourage biking and walking, helping to reduce the prevalence of chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and obesity.

(Photo: Addis Abeba Mayor’s Office)

Air Quality

Urban green spaces play a crucial role in reducing air pollution by absorbing pollutants. It’s known that enhanced green space acts as a natural filter, trapping dust and particulate matter and preventing them from remaining airborne and entering people’s lungs. This improvement in air quality helps mitigate pollution-related respiratory diseases such as asthma which can be exacerbated by prolonged exposure to polluted air. These diseases pose significant health risks globally, particularly in densely populated and developing areas. 

In Addis Abeba, efforts to enhance air quality include planting greenery and improving public transportation infrastructure to reduce reliance on cars and lower vehicle emissions. By promoting sustainable modes of transport and incorporating more green spaces, the city is actively working to improve the overall health and well-being of its residents while addressing environmental challenges. These initiatives collectively contribute to a cleaner, healthier, and more sustainable urban environment further enhancing the public health of the city dwellers.  

Mental Health

The Addis Abeba development project is bringing urban aesthetics to public areas, enhancing the well-being of locals and lowering stress levels. A sense of community is fostered and constructive interactions are encouraged in well-planned urban neighborhoods featuring easily accessible recreational amenities and community centers.

Previously characterized by clutter, disorganized colors, and chaotic signage, the city’s areas developed are now neat with uniform or planned color schemes. This deliberate aesthetic approach creates a visually cohesive environment that promotes calmness and order, reducing stress and anxiety. A cleaner and less cluttered environment supports mental clarity and overall well-being, contributing positively to mental health outcomes.

(Photo: Addis Abeba Mayor’s Office)

Considering the severe mental health issues that developing countries face, these advancements are extremely important.  Addis Abeba development project fosters resilience and recovery by improving physical infrastructure and offering much-needed relief to a community facing significant challenges. It achieves this by establishing welcoming and well-organized urban places.

Life Expectancy 

Life expectancy is a statistical measure that approximates the average number of years that a person might anticipate to live. It is used as an indicator of a population’s general health and standard of living. Numerous factors, such as genetics, lifestyle, access to healthcare, environmental conditions, and socioeconomic level, can affect life expectancy.

Addis Abeba’s urban development initiatives are enhancing public health in several key ways. By improving mobility and promoting active lifestyles through well-planned green spaces and recreational areas, the city is fostering healthier habits among its residents. Additionally, upgrades to infrastructure and sanitation systems are reducing exposure to environmental pollutants, thereby improving overall environmental quality.

Furthermore, well-designed urban environments play a crucial role in mitigating the spread of infectious diseases and enhancing mental health by promoting social cohesion and reducing stressors. Carefully planned urban development not only improves access to healthcare but also encourages healthy behaviors and reduces environmental hazards. These efforts combined contribute to enhanced economic and social well-being, ultimately leading to longer and healthier lives for all residents.


The extensive urban renovation and development project in Addis Abeba is establishing a standard for improving public health and well-being. A focus on public health, especially in previously unhealthy areas and especially for vulnerable populations, complements these advancements. No matter their economic status, the public will live in healthier environments thanks to improved, safer roadways and easier access to medical facilities. The city’s development initiatives are creating the conditions for a safer, more dynamic, and healthier urban future by fostering social cohesion, lowering environmental risks, and improving infrastructure. In the end, this will help all of the city’s citizens live longer and in better health.

Furthermore, the incorporation of green spaces and sustainable practices into urban planning is promoting physical activity and enhancing air quality, all of which are essential for averting chronic illnesses including diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. In addition to encouraging an active lifestyle, the construction of bike lanes and pedestrian-friendly zones also lessens traffic congestion and automobile emissions, improving the environment. Having access to contemporary conveniences and leisure centers promotes mental health and overall wellbeing by offering areas for unwinding and social interaction. These all-encompassing upgrades guarantee that the advantages of urban development are dispersed fairly, improving Addis Abeba’s general standard of living and contributing to better public health outcomes for all residents. AS

Editor’s Note: Ledet Muleta (BSN, MPH) serves as an advisor at the Strategic Programs Management Office within the Addis Ababa City Administration Mayor’s Office. She holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Cincinnati and a Master’s in Public Health from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. With over two decades of diverse experience, Ledet’s expertise spans public health, policy, advocacy, research, social programs, and communication.

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