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.
It is a 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.
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 couple of years, many rural development programs have been launched through concerted efforts 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 Habero sub-zone that are making a difference in the lives of the population. Habero sub-zone is one of the nine sub-zonal administrations of the Anseba region, about 60 KM to the north west of Keren. It is bordered by Afabet in the East, Sel’a in the North, Asmat in the south and Halhal in the West. This sub-zone comprises eight administrative localities, namely Arietay, Afayun, Mezret, Habero Tsaeda, Habero Tselim, Karobel, Gelet and Filfle, with around 48 thousand inhabitants.
The villages in the sub-zone, including the center of the sub-zone, were established as permanent settlements after Eritrea’s independence. Mr Ftwi Geremesqel, administrator of Habero sub-zone, says “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 through increasing their access to social service institutions”.
Therefore, there was considerable challenge to provide basic social service institutions and this had to start almost from scratch. Since then this sub-zone has grown fairly and its population is now increasing.
The people of the sub-zone are mainly dependent on farming and pastoralism. This year around 420 mm rainfall was registered in the central part of the sub-zone. Compared to last year, which was about 325 mm, this year’s rainfall was higher and had even distribution. As a result, the farms of the sub-zone are at a promising stage where farmers are expecting a bumper harvest.
Adem Mohammed Ibrahim, director of the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) branch in Habero sub-zone, says, “Available arable land in the sub-zone is around 4000 hectares of land and this year the available farm was tilled and sowed. Though most of the sub zone is mountainous and the available cultivable land is small, farmers always try to maximize their harvest by adopting different techniques. The crops that are most suitable to the area are sorghum, millet, ground nut and others”.
In 2014, farm land was distributed to women-headed households to help them be involved in a project funded by the government. The project started in 2013 with the aim of expanding the irrigated farm lands along the Anseba River. The farmers are now producing fruits and vegetables which ensured cheaper and fresh supply to the local market that was previously supplied from Keren. The farms are irrigated through water canals diverted from the river.
The MoA branch in the sub-zone provides farmers with what are regarded as the best seeds and help those who seek advice through various programs. After the introduction of the selected seeds, developed by the College of Agriculture in Hamelmalo, the average yield of the farmers has doubled.
One of the most important social services for people to lead and sustain their living in an area is the health sector. Three health stations and one health center have been established since independence. These are located in Afayun, Habero Tsaeda, Flfle and one health center in the Arietay, the center of administration of the sub-zone. Though these health stations are enough to serve the local population, the distance between the health stations combined with the difficult terrain and unlit roads is making it difficult for the people to get easy access to the health service. There are two ambulances serving in the health stations for patients who are dispatched for higher medical assistance to the regional referral hospital of Keren.
Mr. Ftwi says, “Due to the transportation deficit, the remote areas are reached through food medics, who are playing a key role in controlling communicable diseases, such as tuberculosis and Malaria”. The health center in Arietay gives service to emergency, permanent and outgoing patients, and also has mothers (pre and post-natal) and child care units. The health stations regularly offer vaccinations and have their own laboratories and pharmacies. As a result, satisfactory achievements have been registered in reducing 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 issues in collaboration with partners such as the NUEYS, NUEW, schools and village administrations.
Education is one of the investments countries can make towards building prosperous, healthy and equitable societies. The Habero 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. Each of the local administrations now has its own school ranging from the pre-school to the junior school level.
There are crash-program schools opened for the nomadic communities to help them get access to education. All in all there are 29 schools of which two are secondary schools, eight junior schools and ten elementary schools.
Women’s participation is competitive and proportional with that of their male counterparts until the eighth grade. But their participation goes down remarkably after the eighth grade. There are different reasons that are compelling women to quit formal education. “Cultural and religious stigmas are the main reasons of drop outs” says Mr. Ftwi.
This needs particular attention from all stakeholders to improve the girls’ opportunity to progress to the higher levels of education. One of the alternatives that the Administration is considering to solve this problem is establishing a boarding school in the central place of the sub-zone.
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 of the people. Different studies show that there is a strong correlation between lack of access to basic road infrastructure and supply of goods. Villages provided with road access are, therefore, more likely to develop and improve people’s livelihoods. In the Habero sub-zone, the transport and telecommunications sector is among the least developed and is continuing to be a bottleneck to the overall development endeavors of the sub-zone.
Unless a good road network is built, this will remain to be the biggest challenge to the inhabitants of this sub-zone to connect with the rest of the country and to develop economically. One of the ways this sub-zone can develop is by developing a mechanized farming along the Anseba River. This would have increased the economic importance of the region, thereby impacting other development projects.
Mr. Ftwi indicated that in line with efforts to relieve the inhabitants of water-borne diseases, the local administrations are provided with potable water supply powered by solar panel and generators, except the local administration of Afayun. The center of the administration gets its water supply through generator-pumped and solar-powered water systems. Some of the water systems are in need of innovation because they were put in place many years ago.
As part of the plan to expand the national power grid and increase the coverage of power supply to the remote areas, electric poles have been installed since 2011 but the project has been stalled since then. When the project is completed, it will have a tremendous effect in their livelihood.
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 rural communities. 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 schools and hospitals.