A Glimpse of Karura Sub-Zone

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Karura sub-zone, which is located in the northern part of Eritrea, borders Sudan to the north, the sub-zones of Afabet and Adobha to the south and southwest and the Red Sea to the east.

The sub-zone of Karura, with 11 local administrations, has a population of around 25 thousand people who are mostly from the Tigre and Rashaida ethnic groups. Animal herding is the main economic stay of the people and some engage in small scale farming. Due to Karura’s close proximity to Sudan, the people also work as traders.

As their region was a war zone during the struggle for Eritrea’s independence, the inhabitants of Karura sub-zone were forced to flee their villages and move to different parts of Eritrea and the Sudan. In the post-independence years, the Government of Eritrea committed itself to bringing about a rapid and sustainable development in the rural areas through various programs of resettlement and regrouping of villages. Over the years, the thrust of the rural development programs have been on the all-round economic and social transformation of rural areas, through a multi-pronged strategy, aimed at reaching out to the most disadvantaged sections of the society.

The villages in Karura sub-zone, including the center of the sub-zone, were established as permanent settlements after Eritrea’s independence. Mr. Idris Ali, administrator of Karura sub-zone, said, “The area was one of the main battle grounds and military bases during the struggle for independence years. The civilian population had left their homes and farm lands and scattered elsewhere. Most of the settlements in the area were small and scattered before independence but after independence people began to regroup as part of the program to settle the scattered settlements in a central place and enhance the livelihoods of the rural communities by increasing their access to social services”.

There was considerable challenge to provide basic social services that had to start almost from scratch. Emahmime, the center of the sub-zonal administration, was founded as an Ethiopian army garrison, and, after independence, it grew with the increase in the number of settlers who came back home from different places. Since then the sub-zone has grown fairly and its population is now increasing.

As one of the most important social services for people to lead and sustain their lives, two health centers have been established in Karura sub-zone since Eritrea’s independence. These are located in Karura and Emahmime, the center of the sub-zonal administration. Though the health centers are sufficient to serve the local population, their distance from people’s homes and the difficult terrain and unlit roads make it difficult for the people to have easy access. There are two ambulances in the health stations for patients who have to go to the referral hospital in Afabet.

Mr. Idris said, “Due to transportation problem, people in remote areas are reached out through foot medics, who are playing a key role in controlling communicable diseases such as tuberculosis and Malaria”. The health centers regularly offer vaccinations and have their own laboratories and pharmacies. These have helped in reducing the mother and child mortality rates, FGM, underage marriage and HIV and malaria caused deaths, and in raising the overall awareness of the people. To maintain the achievements, health professionals provide awareness campaigns to the communities on different health-related issues in collaboration with religious leaders, schools and village administrations. Mr. Idris said that in line with efforts to relieve the inhabitants of water-borne diseases, potable water supply powered by solar panel and generators have been set up.

Education is the key to build a prosperous and healthy society. Mr. Mohammed Idris, director of the Ministry of Education in Karura sub-zone, said that the sub-zone was one of the places that had no school before independence. The first school, which now includes both elementary and secondary levels, was opened in 1992 in Emahmime. Every local administration now has a school, catering to the needs of students ranging from pre-school to junior secondary level, and students pursue their secondary school in Emahmime.

There are schools that give crash-programs targeting the nomadic communities to help them have access to education. All in all, there are 10 elementary, three Junior and one secondary schools, in addition to the schools that give crash-programs.

There are 1506 students enrolled this year which is significantly lower than the expected number. This year alone there are around 3000 children who are out of school at the sub-zonal level. The schools which are being opened are expected to accommodate around two thousand students next year.

The secondary school in Emahmime has all facilities including a digital library. Students who come from far-off places are sent to Tsabra Boarding School. The biggest problem students face is transportation.

Despite their great potential for farming, the wide plains that were used as cotton plantations during the Italian colonization are underexploited. To make matters worse, a type of mesquite plant known as Proposis juilifora is invading the plains and river beds, growing so thick, so fast and so abundantly that it is making farming impossible in some areas. It is taking time and money for farmers to clear away the weed.

All of the roads that link Karura sub-zone are seasonal. The old roads that were used during the liberation struggle have been renovated recently to ease the transportation problem.

The biggest unsolved problem in the sub-zone is that of communication and transportation services. The telecommunication coverage is small, confined around the town of Emahmime. Mr. Edris said that the available road links are in need of repair, and he expressed his hope that this would be solved in the coming years.

Mr. Idris said that as the area surrounding Karura was a rear base of the EPLF throughout the years of the struggle for independence, they are working to preserve the relics of the armed struggle. The first congress of the EPLF was conducted in a place known as Fah and Radio Dimtsi Hafash went on air in Jan 1, 1979 from Karura sub-zone. It is also where the revolutionary school was founded and other civilian and military departments of the EPLF stationed. Mr. Idris called on the Ministry of Tourism’s branch of the sub-zone to pay attention to preserving the relics of historical significance because of their value and their contribution to tourism.