There is a general consensus that basic social services are the building blocks for human development. Indeed, they are now accepted as fundamental human rights.
Lack of access to basic services is measured in terms of the human cost, including lives lost, number of children out of school and people without access to safe water and sanitation. The government of Eritrea has pursued a cautious path to avoid this problem and invested heavily on remote areas. As a result, the rural-urban development gap is narrowing down in many places. Here, we will look at the development initiatives of the Areza sub-zone.
Areza sub-zone is one of the twelve sub-zonal administrations of the Debub Region. It is bordered with the sub-zones of Mendefera, in the east, Molqi, in the west, Dbarwa, in the north and May- Mne, in the south. It is inhabited by around 81 thousand people and is one of the most populous sub-zones of the southern region. It comprises around 106 villages which are grouped under 22 local administrations. It is the biggest sub-zone in terms of land area, 21,980 Sq. meters, of which 14,955 hectares are arable land. Agriculture is the primary occupation of the people and mainstay of their socio-economic structure while a small percentage is engaged in trade and other activities.
There is extensive evidence of the role of education in reducing poverty. In the Areza sub-zone, all of the local administrations have their own schools. After completing junior high-school, the students continue their education at the secondary schools in May- Dma and Areza. There are 53 schools, ranging from pre-school to secondary school. This year, there are more than 20 thousand students enrolled in all of these schools. The documents of the Ministry of Education’s (MoE) branch in the sub-zone show that this year more than 500 students have been taught through the crash program as part of the campaign to eradicate illiteracy and support the students who were unable to start education at their proper school age.
Overall, females’ enrollment in schools is increasing. Although their enrollment in primary schools is equal to that of males, it tends to decrease as they go up the ladder to secondary schools and beyond. This year females comprise 44% of the total number of students enrolled. In the remote villages, where the schools are located far from the residential areas, female enrollment tends to be lower in the upper-level grades. This is mainly caused by lack of transport.
The primary schools have a relatively small catchment area: many students come on foot from the surrounding villages. At secondary level and above the situation is different. Students usually travel far greater distances to get to secondary schools. Here the enrolment rate tends to decrease when students pass to the secondary school levels because other than the single well-constructed road, the other feeder roads are unlit and not usable all year round. Studies by the MoE branch of the sub-zone have repeatedly shown that using transport-related interventions to make schools more accessible has a positive impact on school attendance rates.
Similar considerations apply to access to health care. There are six health stations and one health center at the center in Areza. According to Mr. Abraham Teklebrhan, medical director of the Ministry of Health (MoH) in the sub-zone, though there are areas where additional health facilities are needed, the quality of health service delivered is being improved from time to time. All of these health institutions were built after Eritrea’s independence, and this locality was one of the areas where there was limited or no access to health service.
The remote areas are reached by foot medics and through outreach campaigns. The Areza sub-zone is one of the areas where malaria is very common due to its location in the lowland area. The MoH has been able to control the prevalence of malaria by training the foot medics. The foot medics in every village deliver medicines to patients diagnosed with malaria.
The health institutions provide all kinds of medical service except operations and have their own laboratories, pharmacies and other departments. As a result of the integrated health service, death rates caused by communicable diseases have dropped significantly. In the last 11 months, for example, there has been only one HIV infection case found.
One of the problems that was hindering modern health service was the practice of traditional medicine and other harmful practices. In order to mitigate this problem, a health committee selected from every association and religious institution has been formed.
There are two ambulances serving the health institutions. The MoH branch in the sub-zone has built two delivery waiting rooms with the help of the local population as part of the effort to upgrade the child and mother care.
In terms of agriculture, inhabitants of the area say they expect a good harvest because of the good rains. The main crops sown in the sub-zone are sorghum, maize, barley, wheat and other cereals. Fruits and vegetables are also grown in small scale.
Mr. Mhretu Araya, MoA branch director in Areza, said that the ministry conducts regular extension activities to enhance the production capacity of farmers. The farmers are now advised to apply compost fertilizer because the artificial fertilizer could increase salinity of the farms in the long-run.
For an inclusive development of a country the transportation sector is very critical. In the sub-zone of Areza, there is the main well-paved route that leads to Barentu through May-Dma. Apart from this, the feeder roads to the May- Dma – Mendefera route are all seasonal roads and are damaged every summer which becomes a problem to the surrounding villages. A plan is underway to expand the road links and renovate the existing ones.
Starting from February 2018, the sub-zone has been provided with solar powered electric supply. The main solar power is planted in two locations, one in Areza and the other in May-Dma. The two plants, which were funded by the government and other partners, produce 1.5 MW of electricity together. The two power stations will deliver electric supply to the local villages within a distance of 22 km. Currently the towns of Areza and May-Dma are enjoying electric supply in addition to the villages along the main grid lines. The project is being expanded to include other local administrations.
Mr. Riesom Kiflemariam, administrator of the sub-zone, said that the project will be a great relief to people who used to rely on traditional energy sources, such as agricultural waste and kerosene, which are unsustainable, unhealthy and expensive. The new, reliable solar energy will improve the health and living conditions of the people by providing smoke-free, accessible and low-cost alternative source of energy.
The solar power will improve access to the Internet and television, solar-powered basic healthcare services and other solar-powered electronic gadgets for students.
Access to clean water was a big challenge in the sub-zone, but solar energy is easing the problem in this field too. Various water conserving schemes have been conducted and the overall water scarcity problem is now solved.
Efforts are always made to clear up the water reservoirs filled with sediments. Currently around 70% of the population has access to potable water.
Electricity and water problems have been solved in Areza and May-Dma, with a plan to extend the solution to the local villages. This will have tremendous effect on the overall development efforts of the sub-zone.