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Eritrean women take lead in conservation of Mai Nefhi dam catchment area

Eritrean women in Abrada have constructed 152 Kms terraces, built 1500 m3 of check dams and planted 39,540 tree seedlings to conserve the Mai Nefhi Dam catchment area.


Abrehet Issac (59) is passionate about environment conservation. She led 5 groups of women who undertook a cumbersome task of digging, ferrying stones and planting trees at the Mai Nefhi catchment area. “The ground was very hard and our hands were bleeding, but we were committed to finishing the work that we had begun.” She said. As the leader, Abrehet coordinated the activities undertaken by the groups and found solutions for those encountering problems. “Sometimes I just made jokes to cheer them up. They still want to come even though we don’t have any ongoing work at the moment!” She exclaimed. They call the place “Taba Hamadae”, loosely translated it means the hill where women meet.

Two years ago, a group of 120 women from two villages Abarda and Kutmowlie in Galanefhi sub- region, Maekel region started an ambitious environment conservation project that entailed planting trees and constructing check dams on 100 hectares of land that form the Mai Nefhi catchment area. During the implementation of the project, they formed committees that were responsible for ensuring that all the planned activities were implemented.

According to Tiblez Weldgherima, the administrator of Abarda and Kutmowlie villages, it is the residents of Abada village that came up with the conservation idea as they were looking for ways to improve their livelihoods. “As an administrator, I had already mobilized the women and organized ourselves into groups” she said. Tiblez is an ex fighter from Eritrea’s armed struggle for independence. “I have witnessed the death of my comrades. Their blood was not shed in vain, it is what drives me” she said. Since then she has nurtured the commitment to see the prosperity of the future generations in Eritrea. “The armed struggle for independence has taught many of us to be resilient, the women are committed to the initiative. I am still a soldier, fighting for the protection of the environment” she added.

The project is implemented by one of UNDP’s implementing partners, the National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW) and is funded by UNDP-GEF Small Grants Programme and co-financed by the communities and government ministries. There is a development committee comprising of representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), NUEW, sub region and village administration who supervise the soil and water conservation activities as per MoA guidelines.

So far, soil and water conservation work has been undertaken on 38 hectares of land through community participation. They have also constructed 152 Kms terraces, built 1500 m3 of check dams and planted 39,540 tree seedlings of eucalyptus, cactus and “Awhi” (Cordia Africana). In future the community of about 720 households, will be able to harvest the trees and sell as firewood for extra income or poles for house construction. They can also harvest the cactus fruit ‘beles’ during the rainy season (May to September), to supplement household food and income especially for the rural population.

The project is anticipated to improve the livelihoods of about 2,500 people, in addition to decreasing siltation of Mai Nefhi dam. The dam is the main source of water for part of Eritrea’s capital, Asmara and its surrounding villages.

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