Environmental Protection in Eritrea

Nakfa, Eritrea.  Micro dam at the beginning of the rainy season; it’s used for irrigated farming.
Nakfa, Eritrea. Micro dam at the beginning of the rainy season; it’s used for irrigated farming.

By Rediet Kifle,

Increasingly, the threat of environmental degradation has garnered attention as an important developmental issue. Currently, there is a strong consensus that environmental degradation can negatively affect humans and other species, and direct consequences include aspects of global warming, torrential rains or little-to-no rain, and desertification.

Notably, aspects of degradation are quite apparent in newly developing nations; for example, a recent World Risk Report categorized African nations, as being “High” or “Very High” risk for environmental degradation due to their exposure and vulnerability.”[i]

The potentially devastating consequences of environmental degradation, increasingly associated with human and national security, have given impetus to global efforts for its to remedy through investments and projects.

Pic-1: Nakfa, Eritrea. Terracing around the micro dam
Pic-1: Nakfa, Eritrea. Terracing around the micro dam

In Africa, Eritrea is one nation situated within an environmental risky region. The country is categorized as “Medium” risk in the World Risk Report, which also focuses on exposure to natural disaster, susceptibility, coping capacity, and adaptive capacity.[ii]  Eritrea’s risks also involve the growing desertification and land degradation. According to Eritrea’s Ministry of Agriculture, these issues are attributable to past colonial domination, failure of traditional conservation measures, erosion, nutrient losses, expansion of agriculture and livestock grazing, and rapid modernization and its social breakdown effects.[iii] It is obvious that the country’s environmental degradation risks will require a vast amount of investment to mitigate, especially in light of the difficult mountainous topography of the country and the limited annual rainfall.[iv]

In spite of various difficulties, the Eritrean government has prioritized curbing environmental degra

Pic. 2: Nakfa, Eritrea. Villagers working on the micro dam construction
Pic. 2: Nakfa, Eritrea. Villagers working on the micro dam construction

dation risks, and it has mobilized resources and the population toward this endeavor. This is encapsulated in a cherished, national slogan, part of which was recited to me by a young farmer as “may’n hamed’n mieqab” (land and water conservation). In this effort, the Eritrean government mobilized the community to increase public awareness; constructed more than 1,521 hectares of hillside terracing, 411,000 m3 check dams, and 108,000 micro-basins; and (re) planted approximately 151.5 million seedlings. [v]

As part of my own work, research, and travels, I have had the opportunity to travel to Eritrea and I witnessed the efforts firsthand, the outcomes of which are evident throughout the country, but particularly in rural, remotest areas.

Pic. 3: Nakfa, Eritrea. Villagers working on the micro dam construction.
Pic. 3: Nakfa, Eritrea. Villagers working on the micro dam construction.

One such rural, remote area is Nakfa, found in the northern part of the nation. The region was the scene of large-scale destruction during the long struggle for independence, and there are noticeable negative marks of degradation.  However, reconstruction of the city and surrounding villages has been ongoing, with the construction of houses, schools, a hospital, and water facilities, in addition to battling environmental degradation.

The commitment to development and alleviating environmental degradation risks are illustrated by the accompanying series of photographs (during my extended stay). The photos capture the community, assisted by local authorities, engaged in constructing micro-dams on three tributary rivers: the Feleg, Shakat and MoO, in a bid to capture potential running floods from the upcoming rainy season. Flood retarding terraces were also prepared to reduce clogging from the eroded soil.

Pic 4: Nakfa, Eritrea. Drip irrigation for reforestation.
Pic 4: Nakfa, Eritrea. Drip irrigation for reforestation.

Of added significance, construction efforts took place in spite of the limited availability of materials, and despite the fact that the majority of the participants were observing the Islamic fasting period. These dams would not only catch water for broad public use, but also enable the recycling of the groundwater – vital to combating degradation.

I also observed that the local authorities have introduced a drip irrigation scheme, in order to sustain agriculture and forestation programs in this area, where water is scarce. These efforts, coupled with other projects in forestation and irrigation, will play a critical role in assisting sustainable agriculture and greenery, and transitioning the ecosystem toward a more habitable environment.

Here, it is important to understand the priorities and ambition of the local communities in this area, and other developing nations in general, and any governmental or international efforts should center on these considerations.

I conclude by reiterating the importance of such endeavors for human and national security: without a healthy, harmonious, and sustainable environment there will be no species, no humans, no villages, and no country. Various stakeholders, the development community, researchers and intellectuals, and relevant organizations should revisit these issues for the sake of regional and global sustainability.

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[i] “World Risk Report 2012”. The Alliance Works. November 11, 2013. https://www.ehs.unu.edu/file/get/10487.pdf

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ministry of Agriculture. “The National Action Programme for Eritrea to Combat Desertification and Mitigate the Effects of Drought (NAP)”. United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, January 2002. https://www.unccd.int/ActionProgrammes/eritrea-eng2002.pdf

[iv] Even when rain occurs, it may flood the land and speed toward a running river or to the sea.

[v] State of Eritrea Ministry of Land, Water and Environment Department of Environment. “Challenges and Capacity Needs to Address Global Environmental Change in Eritrea”. Global Environmental Facility, November 25, 2013. https://www.thegef.org/gef/sites/thegef.org/files/documents/document/ncsa-eritrea-fr-ap.pdf

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