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A Glimpse of Adi-Keyh Sub-Zone

Adi-keih, 110 km to the south west of Asmara, is one of the 12 administrative districts of the Debub region. It is 2470 meters above sea level and is bordered with Senafe in the north, May Ayni in the west, Segheneiti in the north and Foro sub-zone in the east.

Currently, around 62 thousand people, mainly Tigrigna and Saho ethnic groups, live in the sub-zone of Adi-keyh.

The total area of the sub zone is around 7161.45 km², out of which 7000 hectares of land is currently used for agriculture in addition to the around 2000 hectares of reserve areas. It is one of the mountainous regions of Eritrea.

The higher areas of Adi-Keyh are moderate, with temperature generally not exceeding 35°C and rainfall ranging from 400 mm to more than 700 mm in the summer. In general, rainfall is not reliable in most of the areas in the region. More than 82% of the people live on farming and pastoralism and other related activities in the sub-zone. The most commonly grown crops are maize, sorghum and wheat. Agro-pastoralists also raise cattle, goats, sheep and camels.

Mr. Eyob Amanuel from the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) in the sub-zone says due to the mountainous land scape and deforestation the soil has been exposed to erosion. The MoA in the sub-zone, in cooperation with departments of the MoA in the sub-zone such as the vegetation and livestock resources, water and soil conservation and forest and wild life, is working to reclaim the deforested lands and engage in soil and water conservation activities to enhance agricultural productivity. The MoA and its departments are staffed with experts who graduated from institutions such as Hamelmalo Agricultural College and are making a difference in all of the departments. Through the extension program of the MoA they are assigned to each of the local administrations to monitor agriculture and wild life development.

The people of the sub-zone participate in soil and water conservation campaigns, community and student summer programs and food for work projects. These initiatives have proven to be effective resulting in a significant amount of land getting reforested in the last years.

The livestock resources department conducts routine surveillance activities and gives vaccinations periodically. The sub-zone is rich in livestock and milk production. The MoA is working to expand modern farming in the sub-zone. Currently there are unions of milk and meat producers and bee farmers.

The sub-zone of Adi-Keyh is known for its archeological and historical places such as Kohaito, Tekondae, Hishmele, Keskese, Der’a, Aba-Selama, and Mealewya. According to archeological studies, in the 2nd century AD, the famous Egyptian geographer Claudius Ptolemy made reference to an important ancient town named Koloe. Its importance in the ancient world during this time is obvious. A few ancient chronicles record that Kohaito was still flourishing in the 6th century AD. However, like Adulis and Metera, it vanished very suddenly in the next one or two hundred years.

Kohaito, which lies at a high altitude of 2700 mts, is believed to have served as a kind of summer retreat for the rich merchants from nearby towns. The traces of cultivated areas found between the buildings have led to the belief that Kohaito was once a garden city. Kohaito’s impressive ruins are spread over a large area, 2.5 kms wide and 15 kms long. As much as 80 to 90% of the ruins remain unexcavated.

A short walk from Kohaito takes you to the edge of a vast canyon that drops away dramatically. The views of the surrounding mountains from Kohaito, including Mt. Embasoira (3013m) to the south, are stunning. Far below, you can make out the terraced fields and the seemingly inaccessible Saho settlement.

Among Kohaito’s most important ruins is the Temple of Mariam Wakiro that was built on a rectangular plan on a solid platform, and may have been the site of a very early Christian church or even a pre-Christian temple. In the local language this site has long been referred to as ‘abode of the prestigious one’.

About a kilometer to the north of the ruins of Mariam Wakiro lies a tomb discovered in 1894 nicknamed ‘Meqabir Ghibtsi’ or the Egyptian tomb because of its impressive size. The tomb faces east, overlooking the Hedamo River. Rectangular in shape and built with large blocks of stones, its most distinctive features are the two flower-shaped crosses carved on the inside walls.

Safira Dam, 67 mts long and 16 mts deep constructed using large rectangular blocks of stone that are close to 1 m by 0.5 m, is Kohaito’s greatest claim to fame. The masonry is quite beautifully dressed, one of the reasons perhaps for the dam’s incredible longevity. For around 1000 years, it has served the local Saho people as the main source of water. According to a recent investigation, this water cistern dates back to around 1 Century AD and even before this period. On one of the walls inside the dam are some inscriptions in ancient Ge’ez, made up of 79 words, the longest yet found in Ge’ez.

According to the administrator of the sub-zone, Mr. Habtay Tesfazghi, there are other unexcavated sites in the area. Domestic and international visitors come to this area for different reasons including research and to visit historical sites. Some service rendering institutions are striving to be able to better utilize these resources for tourism. To improve their quality of service, the administration of the sub-zone, in cooperation with the Ministry of Tourism and others, organizes training and supervision.

From the onset of the country’s independence, the government of the state of Eritrea has worked on improving the living standards of the population and providing basic social services. Water is a precious natural resource which is vital to sustain life and important for economic and social development. Therefore, various water reservoir infrastructures have been made, and they are contributing to the water security of the sub-zone. The town of Adi-Keyh, the center of administration, gets its water supply from its locality through an integrated network of water lines laid. The main water project implemented to enhance the water supply of the sub- zone was the 2009 JICA project funded by the government of Japan. Today safe drinking water is made available to all the residents of the town through permanent pipes. Extra storage tanks were constructed so that there are sufficient quantities all the time.

Water is pumped from a distance that stretches up to 10 km up a hill of Adi-Keyh to be distributed by gravity to consumers. Modern pumping equipment was installed in all the boreholes and this has enabled the pumps to operate throughout the year.

Mr. Habtay says there is no shortage of water supply unless there is power cut, which was the main problem in the sub-zone until last year when a new power plant was installed to replace the old generators. In the remaining local administrations, the people get potable water through generators, drills, hand-pumps and solar energy.

Mr. Habtay said that the health service in the sub-zone meets the demands of the people and ensures the health safety of the population. The remaining areas are villages and parts of the town located in the escarpments are served through foot medics. A plan is underway to resettle these communities in a central place so that basic social services can be provided with ease. There are two hospitals and four health centers in the sub-zone. The contribution of the health institutions has been immense in ensuring the safety of the population in general and in reducing child and mother mortality, raising the health awareness of the population and reducing common health problems. There is a plan to open health institutions in the local administrations which are located far from the closest health institution in their vicinity and thereby meeting the goal to provide health service within a five km radius.
Mr. Habtay says there are schools in all the local administration ranging from pre-school to secondary school level. There are 11 pre-schools, 21 elementary, nine Junior and three secondary schools in the sub-zone. The number of students who are making it to the higher levels of education is increasing.

Adi-Keyh is located along the main route to Ethiopia through Senafe, and the transportation service is fairly good for the population along the main road links. The local administrations which are far away from the main road are linked through seasonal roads which are prone to damages in the summer. Harat Transport Company serves the people by providing permanent buses.

Harat Transport Company requires paved road to guarantee public service. The communities along the seasonal roads often renovate their road links through community campaigns in order to get transportation service. The telecommunication coverage and mobile service users is increasing in the sub-zone.

Though there are areas where the electric grids are not extended, the power supply problem of the sub-zone was solved with the installation of the new power plants, ending four years of power shortage. A plan is underway to expand the power supply network to the remaining administrative localities. The project to link the subzone with the national grid is being completed and is set to give full service in the coming few years.


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