After independence the government of Eritrea has taken different initiatives to raise the standard of living of the rural people based on the tenets of social justice and equal development.
In pursuit of this objectives, the government invested in the rural areas based on the belief that unless the rural areas are given attention, the benefits of economic growth and development are not likely to trickle down efficiently to the majority of the population, particularly those in the rural areas. This article gives an account of the development activities in the Sel’a sub-zone.
Sela sub-zone is one of the 16 districts of the Gash-Barka region. It borders with the sub-zones of Habero and Asmat to the east, Nakfa and Adobha to the north, Kerkebet to the south and Sudan to the west. It has a population of more than 22 thousand living in nine administrative areas, namely; Hambekta, BadenLgite, Merbebayb, Debasata, Sherit, Rkeb, Hrum, Grgrgersi, and Tahra. Most of the people live as pastures and a small percentage engage in trade and agriculture. This sub-zone is home to of Bidawyeet and Tigre ethnic groups.
Sel’a sub-zone is one of the areas where village regrouping is promoted due to the scattered settlement of the population in the sub-zone. Village regrouping is an attempt aimed at creating relatively larger settlements by bringing together several scattered villages for the purpose of provision of facilities and services. It is carried out based on the assumption that rural services and other infrastructural facilities can best be provided at less cost the more concentrated the population of an area is.
Settlements are selected by considering the socio-economic needs of the people, i.e. where the people can get water and pasture for their animals in relation to access of public service institutions. This sub-zone was formed in 1997 after the zonal administration was restructured. Mr. Wuela Mohammed Ali, administrator of the Sel’a sub-zone, says “during that time, there was not any kind of social service institution. Therefore, it had to start almost from scratch”.
Investments in rural infrastructure, health and education are key to poverty reduction measures and are critical to sustainable rural development and can enhance national well-being. In line with the regrouping of villages to a new settlement area, the provision of social services such as education is increasing in the subzone. Education transforms human beings from ignorance to enlightenment, from shades of social backwardness to light of social betterment and a nation from underdevelopment to faster social and economic development.
The Sel’a sub-zone was one of the places where educational facilities were non-existent before independence except that of the illiteracy campaigns carried out by the EPLF. After independence three kindergartens, six elementary and three junior schools as well as seven crash-program sites have been opened and are registering some promising results in enhancing the educational opportunities of the people. Students who managed to pass to the secondary school level are sent to Asmat Boarding School. More than 1100 students are currently learning in these schools, which is very much lower than the required enrollment level. According to Mr.Ibrahim Ikud Ibrahim, director of the Ministry of Education branch of the Sel’a subzone, in cooperation with partners, is working to increase the number of students who should be enrolled in the next academic year.
In the health sector, the government of Eritrea is investing significant amount of budget. Three health institutions have been established after independence: one health center in Rkeb and two health stations in Hrum and Tahra. These two health stations give service only to outgoing patients and cases beyond their capacity to handle are transferred to the Rkeb Health Center. Mr. Zemenfes Gebreluel, director of the Ministry of Health branch of Sel’a sub-zone branch, says “the transportation deficit in this sub-zone makes our reach to the remote areas very difficult. So, these areas are covered by foot medics who are playing a key role in controlling communicable diseases, such as tuberculosis and Malaria in the remote areas”. The health center in Rkeb gives service to emergency, permanent and outgoing patients. Mr. Zemenfes says “We have mothers care (pre and post-natal) and child care units and we are working under the motto ‘A mother shouldn’t lose her life while giving birth”. The health center gives vaccination and has its own laboratory and pharmacy. As a result, satisfactory achievements have been registered in reducing the mother and child mortality rates, FGM, underage marriage, HIV and malaria caused deaths, and overall awareness of the people.
To maintain these achievements, health professionals provide awareness campaigns to the communities on different health related subjects in collaboration with partners such as the NUEYS, schools and village administrations. Mr. Zemenfes says that what is making more difficult for health coverage is lack of settlement. Therefore, with the ongoing efforts to regroup the village settlements, two additional health stations will be opened and this will make health facilities more accessible.
Transportation and communication are essential to integrate remote areas with the national economy. To expand and renovate the road links, Segen Construction Company has started its activities in the area to connect the sub-zone with the feeder roads. Four of the administrative areas have EriTel coverage which will expand in the near future. The Sel’a sub-zone is one of the regions planned to benefit from the rural electrification scheme of the Kerkebet power plant.
Developing the agricultural sector is directly related to rural development. There is a lot of potential for agriculture along the Anseba River and Kenfertay. The sub-zone is studying measures to rehabilitate the Badn agricultural area and redistribute it to farmers, which was utilized by the EPLF during the war of independence. The major aim of the sub-zone is to encourage farmers to engage and resettle in the Kerkebet agro-project. This year alone around 300 farmers benefitted from the project and other farmers are now looking to follow suit.
Recently Zara Mining Company operating in the sub-zone has been creating employment and training opportunities to the locals. The local people are given priorities to development initiatives and people whose land falls on the mining area have been compensated. For example, Goqo administrative area has been relocated where the people were provided with houses and public services with a total compensation of 15 million Nakfa.
The development of rural areas takes time. It is complex and a long term process involving fundamental transformation of rural communities, both at social and economic levels. It represents planned programs to improve the quality and lifestyle of the ruralities. Rural development will remain a huge project for the government of Eritrea; it means the extension of agricultural facilities, provision of electricity, improvement in the transportation and communication facilities and construction of school and hospitals.