Challenges of Aba Shawl, Eritrea: Defining a sustainable way of developing the infrastructure
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Aba Shawl is a district located in Asmara, which is the capital of Eritrea, situated on the African Horn.The area is a part of the so-called “unplanned city”, which is characterized by its unsystematically built up houses, narrow pathways and a unique social network between the households. Aba Shawl was a part of the indigenous zone in the early 1900s, during a time when Eritrea was a colony of Italy.The urban development plans made by the Italians were affected by a policy based on racial segregation. Asmara had a European zone, and the Eritreans who lived there, were to a large extent forced to move into the indigenous quarters, which resulted in Aba Shawl becoming the area with the highest population density of the city. The Italian development plans kept on neglecting this area,which resulted in an area lacking all basic infrastructure, services and amenities, such as sufficient water supply, proper roads and electricity supply. Through decades of war, Eritrea has suffered a great loss of people and its cities have been bombed to pieces. The brutal warfare has made Eritrea into one of the poorest countries in the world 3. AbaShawl has been neglected by the administrations of Asmara throughout the years, until Eritrea got its independence in 1993. Today the Municipality of Asmara has a strong desire to improve the livingconditions of the area; however, various factors connected to the area and a lack of resources makesit hard to go through with the wanted measures. The challenges that the district is struggling with were revealed throughout two field studies in Asmara, by a student group at NTNU, in November2010 and February 2011. Throughout both stays there was a close cooperation with the Department of Infrastructure (DoI) in Asmara. The DoI helped define the various challenges of Asmara and formthe problem areas for the master’s theses of the student group working on this task. Three of the students, two from the architecture- and one from the civil engineering study, have focused on the Aba Shawl area. Necessary information has been collected by using various methods;through observation, through literature study and through meetings and informal conversations withthe dwellers of Aba Shawl, the staff of the DoI, the Norwegian Church Aid and European Commission Delegation. Through the collected information it was revealed that Aba Shawl is still lacking basic infrastructure and according to the DoI, the prioritized challenges of the district are: The inadequate access, which consists of narrow, uncovered and rough pathways. This decreases the security of the area, since emergency vehicles cannot enter. The insufficient water supply. The lack of stormwater drainage, causing flooding problems every rainy season. The lack of a sewage network and the fact that only a minority have private sanitation systems. The objective for the theses of the Aba Shawl student group is to provide the DoI with new ideas and inspiration of how the challenges of the district can be solved. The study has involved a solid surveyof the conditions of Aba Shawl and Eritrea in general, in order to provide realistic and sustainable solutions. The provided solutions emphasize to minimize the destruction of the existing properties and the social network between the households. In order to solve the current accessibility problem, it is advisable to provide the existing roads with proper cover and a stormwater groove, so the water will be lead away to a flood protection dam or infiltration basin, instead of flooding the streets during the rainy season. Custom made Piaggio emergency- and service vehicles will provide the security that the area is lacking today. The parts of the roads that have a width less than 1.5 meters, which is the maximum width of the three-wheeled Piaggios, will be expanded to make sure that the vehicles have sufficient space. If possible, the dwellers affected by this will be relocated to close by areas and given larger plots as compensation Asmara is suffering from a water shortage. To increase the water supply of Aba Shawl it is therefore advisable that Asmara constructs more dams and upgrade parts of the existing system; especially old equipment that causes leakages and other operation trouble. However, the existing dams have alarge unused hydraulic potential, which should be more than sufficient to provide Aba Shawl district with potable water. Aba Shawl is today dependent on water supply delivered by trucks, but this is not an economical or an environmental friendly solution in the long run. Aba Shawl is located close to the city centre and its existing water network and it should therefore be possible to install a water distribution network for the district. The system will be based on gravity, installing elevated water storage units on the highest point of the area, Mai Hill, and is estimated to provide the dwellers with50 liters per person per day. The total volume of the water storage will be 900 cubic meters, which equals the demand of one day, plus an extra margin of 20 %, in case of fire or other urgencies. It is advisable to construct more private toilets, since the current situation is one where a major partof the population has to pay for using the public toilets, while a minor group choose to relieve themselves outside. This causes hazardous ground conditions and leaves inhabitants, especially the females, exposed to sexual attacks and health risks. Improving the sanitary situation can be done by installing ecological toilets in the backyards of the dwellers of the area. This system does not requireas much resources as water closets, which need sufficient water, sewage and preferably a treatment plant to run as desired. Asmara is lacking a treatment plant, and the sewage is causing pollution troubles in some of the areas where it is dumped. Until the city gets a treatment plant and manages to store more water, the ecological toilets provide the most suitable solution for Aba Shawl. The faeces and urine can then be reused to valuable agricultural purposes, such as providing the dwellers with kitchen gardens. In this way can they provide themselves with vegetables, something which is extremely hard with the current ground- and water conditions. The water used in these gardens willbe treated greywater. The waste water coming from the households of Aba Shawl will be lead by gravity down to a treatment plant located on the Wedgan Square. In the plant, the water will get the required treatment to be reused in for instance agriculture or for watering parks. It is, however, not drinkable. The water will be pumped up to an elevated grey water storage on Mai Hill, located close to the planned kitchen gardens. Aba Shawl represents an important part of Eritrea’s history and is one of the oldest districts of Asmara. It is however an area strongly affected by poverty and various challenges, where simple measures could contribute greatly to improve the living conditions of the dwellers.