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Gash-Barka: Construction and Expansion of Strategic Roads

By: Kesete Ghebrehiwet

Eritrea’s development programs aim at bringing about social justice across the nation, and for this reason, every project is implemented with a view to ensuring an even distribution of social services in the six regions of the country. These development projects would not be realized without road networks that enable the facilitation of all development undertakings. This article presents the efforts being made in the Western Development Zone, which covers the Gash-Barka region, in the construction and expansion of strategic roads linking the Gash- Barka region with the other parts of Eritrea and transnational roads linking the country with Ethiopia and Sudan.

To help ensure effective and speedy implementation of all kinds of projects, the strategic roads in the Gash-Barka region are being expanded while new roads are constructed in the remote parts of the region. Eritrea’s Mapping and Information Center (EMIC) identify suitable sites and give designs to local construction companies that carry out the development undertakings.

Eng. Angesom Teame, the Senior GIS Expert at EMIC and head of the Western Development Zone, said that as part of the overall development undertakings being implemented in the Western Development Zone, four strategic roads are being built in the Gash- Barka region. The 115.7 km Amalait-Haranait route is very strategic, covering large farmland in an area where the Barka- -Anseba or Barka–Selea Rivers intersect. The construction of this road is expected to impact major development activities in the future. The road, which is 16m wide, will have 11 bridges, 17 Pipe Culverts (PC), 16 Single Horse Shoes (SHS) and Six Double Horse Shoes (DHS), and other hydraulic structures.

The Amalait-Haranait road is expected to improve the livelihoods of the residents of this part of the Gash-Barka region. Eng. Angesom said that in the past there was hardly any major infrastructure in the western low-land of Eritrea, particularly in the arid zones around Kerkebet and its environs. This, he said, has now changed with the construction of water dams along with distribution facilities and the construction of roads, which have brought about a dramatic change in education, water supply, and healthcare facilities. The construction of Amalait-Haranait road has enabled residents of Atay and Agumite to have easy access to the healthcare services provided in Amalait and Kerkebet.

Having gained experience at the plantations around Kerkebet, residents of Ataya and Agumite now engage in modern farming practices and sell their products at the markets in Kerkebet. The big water tanks installed in Atay and Agumite have made access to potable water easier, which is, indeed, the result of the construction of the roads in this zone.

The Tesenai-Omhajor route, which is 102 km long, has 53 hydraulic structures that include seven bridges, three DHS, four SHS, and 39 pipe culverts. Mohammed Ata, Deputy Manager of Bidho General Construction Company, which is expanding the road and performing other earthworks, said that the road alignment has been restructured and major foundation works have been done to correspond with the future plan of paving the Tenenai-Omhajor road with asphalt. Once these activities are carried out, the road will be asphalted to provide viable transport services in the region.

“This strategic road has now been expanded to a double lane structure, from 20 meters to 40 meters in width,” Eng. Angesom elaborated. The Tesenai-Omhajor road is extremely important for the speedy implementation of agricultural and other related development programs in the Gash-Barka region. Mr. Getachew Merhatsion, General Manager of EMIC said, “The plan is to connect Tesenai, Goluj, and Omhajor through an asphalted road and to connect Omhajor to the neighboring countries. To that end, a strategic bridge is being built in Goluj, and a design for the construction of a big bridge that connects Omhajor and Humera has been finalized.”

Another strategic route, linking Eritrea and Sudan, is the 35 km Forto-Sawa-Tamarat road that is 20m wide. The road has a total of 35 hydraulic structures, including six bridges, three DHS, five SHS, and 21 pipe culverts that are under construction.

“The construction and expansion of Forto-Sawa-Tamarat road are very strategic both for Eritrea and Sudan. Tamarat or the Adibara area has the potential to serve as a land port for Sudan, shortening the 1,200 km distance from Port Sudan to Kessala to only 300 Km from Massawa to Kessala,” Eng. Angesom elaborated. The construction of this strategic road impacts the socio-economic activity of communities and speeds up the implementation of major development undertakings in all parts of the country. The Massawa- Asmara-Himberti-Habela-Cheatat- Mensura and Akordat-Mogoraib as well as Forto-Sawa-Tamarat and Adibara are all strategically linked with one another to connect the Northern Red Sea region with the Gash-Barka region and then Kassala of Sudan.

According to Mr. Getachew, the Barentu-Mogoraib road has already been asphalted while the Mogorab-Forto-Sawa road is being asphalted and expanded. The Forto- Sawa-Tamarat route, a dirt road, is in use while hydraulic structures have been designed for future implementation in the Tamarat- Adibara road.

The 184.5 km long Mendefera- Barentu route, which is under expansion and construction, is another strategic road with a total of 131 hydraulic structures, including eight bridges, four DHS, 20 SHS, and 99 pipe culverts. It is the longest of all four strategic roads in the Western Development Zone. The Mendefera-Barentu route links Kharkasha, Bushka, and Shamboko areas of the Gash-Barka region to Areza and Mendefera of the Southern region. It links not only the Southern and Gash-Barka regions but will be an alternative route for motorists to transport goods from Massawa to Omhajor and then to Ethiopia.

The development programs aimed at improving the living standards of the people have been implemented with the active participation of communities. Through their active participation in the construction of strategic infrastructures, local communities in all development zones are made to feel that they are the owners of the development projects. The construction and expansion of the roads in the Western Development Zone is yet another example of efforts being made to evenly distribute services and empower local communities through their participation in development programs.

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