Rural development is conceived as a strategy aimed at finding ways to improve the rural lives with the participation of rural people themselves to meet the required need of the rural area. According to the World Bank, rural development is the process of rural modernization of the rural society through a transition from traditional isolation to integration with the national economy. It involves extending the benefits of development to the poorest among those who seek a livelihood in rural areas.
The achievement of the Millennium Development Goals is at the center of sustainable development. Sustainable rural development is vital to the economic, social and environmental viability of nations. It is, therefore, critical and there is great value to be gained by coordinating rural development initiatives that contribute to sustainable livelihoods.
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. 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.
In the last 26 years, many rural development programs have been launched through concerted effort with partners to enhance the living conditions of, particularly, the rural people. The aim of these programs have been to cover all aspects of rural life such as agriculture, animal husbandry, roads and communication facilities, health and nutritional security, education, and environmental conservation which also helped create employment.
This article gives an account of some of the development initiatives in Asmat sub-zone that are making a difference in the lives of the population. Asmat sub-zone is 130 KM west of Keren and is around 238 thousand square KM. the majority of its people, 74% depend on agriculture, 17% on pastoralism while the remaining 9% are engaged in trade. The center of the sub-zone was established in 1994 as part of the national plan to integrate the rural population with the national economy. Asmat sub zone is divided into seven administrative areas; namely Asneda, Erota, Era, Hawsh, Shegali, Asmat and ShakaWegriet adinstrative areas which are inhabited by around 34 thousand people.
Mr. Yohannes Asfha, general director of Asmat subzone, says “This sub-zone was set up after independence. Therefore, any kind of social service provision had to start from scratch. Since then this sub-zone has grown fairly and its population is now increasing”.
Rural development is perceived as a process of improving the standard of living of the rural population measured by food and nutrition level, potable water supply, health and education among others. The majority of the inhabitants of this sub-zone had previously led nomadic lives scattered over various areas, but they are now leading settled life, receiving different social services.
Education is the basic building block of every society. It is the single best investment countries can make towards building prosperous, healthy and equitable societies. Asmat sub-zone was among the areas the EPLF used as a rear base for years. During this period, the people around this area become beneficiaries of education and ever since the illiteracy level has been going down. Classes used to take place under tree shades using improvised facilities.
In the seven administrative areas, 15 schools have been built since independence and are making contribution toward improving the living standard of the people. These include eight elementary, six junior, and one high schools.
There are also four catch-up class sites intended for children who didn’t get an opportunity to enroll in their school age. In total 5367 students are learning in these schools.
The contribution of education is seen in the capacity building of the majority of the population. Among the schools which are playing a key role for this achievement is Asmat Boarding School, founded in 1980 during the war of independence. It admits students who comes from different schools from within and the neighboring sub-zones to continue their secondary school education. In the current academic year there are 1222 students enrolled. The school is equipped with necessary facilities including dormitories, cafeteria, class rooms, library, computer and science labs and a playground. Mr. Jmie Osman, director of the school says “The school was established to accommodate a few hundreds of students. But now, due to the increasing number of students, the school is in need of some solutions”. Many students who attended this school are now working at different posts at zonal and sub-zonal levels.
Health stations in the administrative areas are also giving commendable service in raising communal awareness and disease prevention, in general, and in reducing child and mother mortality rates, in particular. Around 60% of the residents of Asmat sub-zone are currently enjoying wider access to potable water. Asmat sub-zone is one of the few areas that were declared FGM free in Anseba sub-zone last year.
Agriculture plays an important part in rural development. As Asmat sub-zone is located along the Zara River, it enjoys a great potential for small scale farming along the river. Farmers, though in small scale, produce different crops, vegetables and fruits along the river basin.
Close economic integration of rural areas with neighboring urban areas and the creation of rural off-farm employment can narrow rural-urban disparities, expand opportunities and improve overall wellbeing. Different studies show that there is a strong correlation between lack of access to basic infrastructure and supply of goods. Villages provided with road access are there, more likely to develop and improve people’s livelihoods. Asmat sub-zone has two major road links, one from Keren through Hamelmalo and the other through Sel’a sub-zone. These roads are currently being renovated by Segen Construction Company and are expected to adress the transportation difficulties the people had endured. Villages outside the main roads are always in a disadvantage. In order to increase the number of people with road links, regrouping of villages is actively promoted. Almost the whole sub-zone gets EriTel coverage.