Noise Pollution

Noise pollution is the least addressed issue in Ethiopia and in Africa in general. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) describes this critical problem as follows:

The traditional definition of noise is “unwanted or disturbing sound”. Sound becomes unwanted when it either interferes with normal activities such as sleeping, conversation, or disrupts or diminishes one’s quality of life.  The fact that you can’t see, taste or smell it may help explain why it has not received as much attention as other types of pollution, such as air pollution, or water pollution.  The air around us is constantly filled with sounds, yet most of us would probably not say we are surrounded by noise.  Though for some, the persistent and escalating sources of sound can often be considered an annoyance.  This “annoyance” can have major consequences, primarily to one’s overall health.

If noise pollution is such an alarming issue, then why are most Africans, including governments, silent? Unfortunately, and ironically, environmental issues as a whole, let alone specific ones, seem the least troubling for our rulers.

Noise pollution does not only affect humans but also animals and nature. Growing up in Ethiopia, I never thought of noise as a serious environmental problem that could affect one’s health drastically. It was common for me and for the larger community to wake up at 4:00 AM in the morning due to the calls of muezzins or the chants of priests from nearby. Religious leaders and followers use extremely loudspeakers to propagate their prayers; it is as if God can only hear them that way. They are only interested in meeting the demands of their religion. They are not concerned about those members of the community who suffer from noise annoyance because of the loudspeakers; perhaps, they are not even aware of their damage.

Because the competition between Churches and Mosques is also so rife, the loudspeakers come in handy to win the battle. In big cities, especially in Addis, the condition is worse. Having a house next to a church or a mosque is a nightmare. Government officials rarely intervene to quell such rampant and ugly competitions. Though there has been a law (starting from 1957) that addresses noise pollution, it has never been implemented properly.

In addition to Churches and Mosques, vehicles are other noise polluters. A short trip to Addis and to other regional cities will help one understand my frustration. Unnecessary honking, for example, mostly by men to get young girls’ attention or to annoy someone who accidentally blocks one’s way, remains one of the most unpleasant noises. It is almost impossible to have a peaceful, undisturbed day walking in the streets.

Urban planning, which is one of Ethiopia’s weaknesses, also contributes significantly to noise pollution. One should not be surprised to see industrial buildings (small or big) next to hotels, residential areas, and schools. Slums, results of poor urban planning, are bonus sources of noise pollution.

There are several other sources: barking dogs (unless for Addis Ababa’s elites, dogs for the rest of the population serve as house guards, so they are everywhere), music stores, bars, noisy people, aircrafts, etc.

According to World Health Organization (WHO), noise pollution is a serious threat to human’s health. The organization on its webpage lists the following negative effects of unwanted sounds on health:

  • Pain and hearing fatigue;
  • Hearing impairment including tinnitus;
  • Annoyance;
  • Interferences with social behavior (aggressiveness, protest and helplessness);
  • Interference with speech communication;
  • Sleep disturbance and all its consequences on a long and short term basis;
  • Cardiovascular effects;
  • Hormonal responses (stress hormones) and their possible consequences on human metabolism (nutrition) and immune system;
  • Performance at work and school.

Many individuals and journalists have been complaining about noise pollution for so long but with a little or no success. The Environmental Law of Ethiopia, which can be accessed online, has a chapter dedicated to noise pollution. The chapter states that “The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) is given mandate to develop noise pollution standard in the Ethiopian context.” Yet, Ethiopians still have to see that standard!

What does it take to implement the law? I believe we, the people, have to wake up and take advantage of the laws that are already there in place, and must push our policymakers and government officials to do their job. If we sleep, they will also sleep. After all, they are one of us.

Here are some measures we can take, measures suggested by Noise Pollution Clearinghouse (NPC):

  • Raise awareness about noise pollution
  • Create, collect, and distribute information and resources regarding noise pollution
  • Strengthen laws and governmental efforts to control noise pollution
  • Establish networks among environmental, professional, medical, governmental, and activist groups working on noise pollution issues
  • Assist activists working against noise pollution

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