“As We Had Proactively Reserved Enough Cereals, the Effect Of 2013’s Inadequate Rainfall Has Been Significantly Minimized” President Isaias (Part II)
It is to be recalled that H.E. President Isaias Afwerki conducted an extensive interview on the 9th of February 2014, in the port city of Massawa with the national media outlets on the occasion of the New Year 2014, regarding the overall situation of the country and also the regional state of affairs and future scenarios. Excerpts of the second part follow:
-Your Excellency, as you have already mentioned, there have been many important projects related to water conservation that are being implemented in different parts of the country. Since we are talking about 2014 plans, what are the exact plans associated with water conservation for this year?
As I always say the efforts associated with water conservation should not be assessed depending on the mere water conservation endeavors. Building large dams that can store much water alone cannot be taken as the last means. There are other important activities that should be carried out parallel to the tasks related to water conservation. The water conservation tasks themselves are not only associated with agricultural projects. Water conservation tasks are also linked with meeting drinking water demands. For example, the demand for water is increasing with the expansion of urban areas and increasing urbanization in the highland. Therefore, priorities must be carefully prepared. For instance, is it better to place more emphasis to improving water supply system for Asmara or instead give more weight, in terms of prioritization, to other places where there can be important agricultural projects?
As part of the different projects related to water conservation, there is a dam that is in progress for further improving the water supply system for Asmara. In the Southern Region, when judged in terms of the magnitude of water required for meeting the demands for drinking and agricultural purposes in such areas as Mendefera, Deqemhare, Adi-Qeyih, Debarwa and other semi-urban centers as well as taking into account the topography of the region, the tasks associated with water conservation are considerably demanding. Compared with other similar projects, the dams in the region cannot be effectively used for extensive agricultural projects. While there are completed projects within this year, they are mainly helpful not for major agricultural purposes as the focus has been mainly on the provision of water supply to municipal areas. For prioritization purpose, there are large projects that have been postponed in the eastern plains. These projects may commence in 2014.
We tend to feel that it is better to focus on some selected projects. It is also equally felt that it may be necessary to be elastic enough to implement different projects at the same time– we need to be over -stretched as effective as possible. In this case, being elastically effective is very helpful as such projects can be useful for ensuring food security. In eastern and western lowlands, there are strategically important dam construction projects that have been postponed because we are afraid of being un-necessarily overstretched. For this reason, for a while the focus will be mainly on small and medium dams. The postponed dam projects are really strategically important when judged in terms of their ultimate expected benefits taking into account the magnitude of their areas and their water storage capacity. But for the time being such projects have to be postponed as their implementation takes one through two years and there are budget constraints when it comes to allocation of resources to different development projects.
In theory, there are a number of possibilities for water conservation. If these projects were implementable within a year, we would not talk about the problems associated with the inadequacy and uncertainty of annual rainfall in the country. However, what we achieve in this case actually depends on our capacity and the resources we have. Hence, we should do our best to build our capacity.
If our 2014 dam construction programs cannot be completed before the rainy season begins, hence they become part of 2015 plans. Therefore, the programs to be completed in 2014 are a few in numbers. These programs are mainly associated with the provision of drinking water in municipal and semi-urban centers.
-Mr. President there is a pilot housing project that has just started. What can you inform us about the plan of housing constructions that aims at providing homes to people of different standard of living? Is there any plan to encourage the participation of individuals in this construction project?
What we have started is a pilot project. Even though this is a new thing, we expect it will enhance and improve our technology and construction programs. This is the pre-cast project that was in Massawa and Asmara; and the third one is going to be established in the western lowland. If we are going to have three development zones it is crucial that we have such kinds of companies nearby. Besides these, there have to be at least three companies to produce construction materials like TM technology and bricks for the success of the projects. In relation to the pilot project around Asmara, we can say that our construction companies are reorganized in to three big companies so that they could head the construction programs in the eastern low-lands, highlands, and western low-lands. These companies are now participating in the Asmara pilot project as an exercise to master the technologies and improve experience. When they got back to their permanent places they will stand on their own. When we talk about the project in the western lowland, the town of Tesseney has low prospect of growing and therefore the plan to expand Aligeder has finalized its preliminary study. Besides these two places there should be construction program in areas where there is sizable number of people as well.
In the eastern lowlands the housing project has strategic approach and will target in constructing economic zones with services like electricity, water, transportation to make the places economically meaningful. The primary beneficiaries of this project are those who don’t have houses. Especially people who have sacrificed much and are still toiling for this country have to at least get a house. The housing project that is going to be done in phases is intended to proving a house for such people who cannot pay for it. The village land allocation or Tesa program is also included in this plan. It is going to be revised in such a way that will allow us to make the maximum use of the land employing the new technologies. This allocation program has been wasteful and need to be organized in the national skill housing program. There are of course fundamental challenges arising with this issue of which the provision of cement is the primary one. Due to shortage of electricity supply our ample resource of cement cannot satisfy the demand we have. Other essential building materials should also be produced here instead of buying them from elsewhere with hard currency. Producing these materials domestically will expedite the construction project and will make the price of houses affordable. Individuals contribution to this plan can only be very limited and those who have built in the past didn’t solve the problem. It, therefore, is not a priority. It should not only be for those who have the money, and those who have paid with their opportunity to defend and serve the country should first be considered. Individual effort therefore should be executed within the national framework and contribute in rendering a lasting solution to the overall problem. The program as whole is going to take time. The pilot project is an attempt towards the stated goals but is not going to meet all our demands.
There was a task force mandated with the investigation and rectification of the problems associated with the misuse and mismanagement of the land allocated as Tesa in the villages. How is it going to handle the issue in the future?
The problem was identified early on and the task force was established. There was a lot of mismanagement of land allocated in villages. The task force was to study the situation and identify the faults in our policies. There were some construction projects around places like Kushet, Maihutsa, and others that were attempted by our companies. But this was not satisfactory. The Kushet area for instance was a failure. With its entire shortcoming the housing project in Asmara and Massawa that was conducted by the Korea Company was relatively better. But we have to do more and better than that. Everyone has the right to receive land. But so far the land that was allocated hasn’t been used properly and the houses that were built are not satisfactory. This might be due to lack of money, but we couldn’t go on wasting our land resources. These resources should give proportional use and the wasteful practice has to be rectified. People can have their preferences but the buildings should meet the standards given by the authorities and should aim at the maximum utilization of the land. Any misuse and mismanagement should also be rectified, and this is part of the project we are embarking on.
Those people who don’t have the ability should get the help from banks and other financial institutions. They can rent the house to pay their debt. This way it is beneficial to everyone. Generally these are the conclusions from our experience. We don’t anticipate that the current project will go on without problems and challenges. The main thing is that we have been able to learn from our experience.
You have mentioned about short and long term plans concerning infrastructural projects; which one of these are going to be implemented in 2014?
It is better to say they will start in 2014 rather than saying they will be implemented. We can, for example, talk about the projects in Massawa that we have been postponing for long. We have to at least divide the task into phases and start doing it. There is also project in Asseb; another big project is the road passing through Liban, Habela, Mensura. The railroad from Asmara to Massawa needs maintenance. We also have projects for seasonal roads. These are some of our strategic infrastructure programs. Besides the road from Barentu to Tesseney, the one that is going to link us directly to the Sudan should be asphalted. This didn’t go as we had hoped. To the north the road to Qarora should be upgraded in order it gives full services. The maintenance of the road between Massawa and Asseb, and also the asphalting of various dirt roads are all plans for the year 2014. Besides these we have projects including construction of dams, wells, and ports. The project in the port city of Massawa will take a long time, but till then we can build extension that will give additional service. Other major undertakings in Massawa are the building of oil depots and power plants. Other programs include the dirt road from Shambuko to Goluj. The roads from Tesseney through Omahajer to Bedemit need to be upgraded. There are also roads from Tesseney to Sebderat and from Afhimbol to the border of the Sudan. Since there are a lot of contingent development programs associated with these roads, they are important projects. These are also project that aim to develop the periphery and hence they will have profound effect on other programs like agriculture and transportation, and power supply. These projects will start in 2014 and based on their priority will be categorized. Some of these projects will be done in cooperation with foreign companies who are on the stage finalizing their paper works and about to sign contracts.