By Billion Temesghen
Not long ago Asmara was listed as a UNESCO world heritage site.
The city of colossal beauty is one of the biggest sites registered in the list. Its buildings, roads, parks and just about every monument embodies a gorgeous cultural and historical anecdote of over a century. At one time, Asmara was one of the metropolitan cities of Africa. With people flocking from all over the world to the African reproduction of Rome, Asmara was home to Eritreans, Arabs, Europeans and Americans.
To this day, the city of Asmara is erected on to be a mirror of times. Its language, the Tigrigna of Asmara, has made Arabic and European terminologies its own. This simple aspect of Asmara and the life style of its people attest to the fact that Asmara is home to many societies from outside the borders of Eritrea.
Asmara is surely one city that suits the word ‘comfortable’ to the core of its meaning. Its construction makes life easy, accessible and pleasant to live in. The roads and highways in Asmara were built to make the days of its inhabitants easy.
This beautiful city with many open parks, recreational centers, bars, market places, churches and mosques is a beauty built on smart concepts. The light weather and the friendly people of Asmara are known to be hospitable for outsiders who want to please themselves by living in Asmara.
However, besides its beautiful climate and the friendliness of its people what makes Asmara comfortable and especially modern is the underground drainage system of the city.
Before Asmara evolved into the city that it is today, it was a union of four villages that shared administrational and judicial systems. The four villages also shared one church, the Church of Saint Mary ‘Inda Mariam’. The highland, where Asmara is situated, was a green and dense forest. Also very waterlogged. Therefore, the four villages were found in the edges of the squelchy areas. When Asmara, the city, was built, construction started by the very squelchy areas, mostly today’s downtown or as per the language of the inhabitants, ‘ketema’.
It is easy to assume that the construction of Asmara was not easy. Many places were dried out. Nevertheless the city was literally built on big canals. Underneath Asmara, there does exist a labyrinth of canals that go everywhere from everywhere. An amazing, breathtaking structure ensuring underground drainage do not do harm to the magnificence atop the surface. The underground drainage system plan is equally high-quality.
That being said, let me add here what I gathered while talking to elders and people in their late fifties about the undergrounds of Asmara. According to them the underneath is full of secrets. The Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie used to throw in the canals cadavers of excellent Eritrean University students and many more young Eritreans that he had hang secretly. The people knew about it. Some would put some effort to bring out the cadavers of their beloved ones in order to put them to rest. Later on, during the Eritrean armed struggle, many undercover missions were carried out through the labyrinth. Students and young Eritreans of clandestine groups would seek hideout there after a riot or a mission of putting out an Ethiopian leader. And much more. People, here in Asmara, know that they walk on history. They know that underneath, the labyrinths of Asmara, exhale memories from past times.
Now, with the Eritrean Government spreading its National Development to all corners of Eritrea the focus on Asmara has been less. Infrastructures, schools, hospitals, dams, roads have been built all over Eritrea making the country an exemplary one in Africa balancing rural and urban development. This, and the inattentiveness of the administration office of Asmara has triggered a sort of negligence to the capital. Throughout the years, maintenance of the buildings, roads and drainage system has been carried out irregularly.
To turn the pages, though, the nomination of the city as a world heritage site towards the end of 2017 was surely a wakeup call. Since then, the efforts to safeguard the city have been more than ever, with the people’s awareness on the rise as well as the Government’s attention to mend and preserve it.
As a furtherance of the amendment designed for the preservation of Asmara, this time the focus is on the enigmatic undergrounds of Asmara.
Lately, complaints have been on the rise as regards the drainage system of the city. Especially during the rainy season, floods impede the movement of vehicles. Accidents caused by drivers avoiding hovels on the roads are no news. In many places hovels and the humidity they cause have been the source of sicknesses.
The drainage canals are big and long. Mere examples that extended from the Church of Saint Joseph to the Gas Station of Shell spread for more than thirteen kilometers. Around 2.4 meters high and 3.4 meters wide canals are rather small compared to the rest.
The rehabilitation project is being run by the Asmara Water and Sewage Department (AWSD). Their aim is to rehabilitate the canals as well as carrying out related activities in network and service improvements.
In the last couple of weeks, activities to clean out the canals and rehabilitate the sewage system have been carried out in different parts of Asmara. Mangers of the project say that the rehabilitation work started with the more damaged areas. Therefore, what has been done so far is merely the beginning.
Based on studies conducted prior to the instigation of the rehabilitation project in every 1.125 kilometer of damaged drainage line an estimated of 27000 cubic meters of dirt is expected to be dug out.
Moreover, pipelines are being replaced by new pipes of 60- centimeter diameter. To further make the restoration sustainable for the future, every thirty meters, new catch pits are being added. So far 175 catch pits have been added to the old ones. This will help possible floods or blockage to be spotted faster. The old catch pits are underground, which is the reason underground blockage was hard to notice and deal with promptly.
Inhabitants of Pardiso, Idaga Hamus, Mai Abashawl, Akria and Arbaite Asmara administrations, all neighborhoods of Asmara, are ecstatic about the project. They say that underground blockage have been the cause of many troubles.
Professionals involved in the project put the blame on bad habits and lack of attention from the capital’s administration office. In many cases people have been dumping solid waste in big canals. Over time this has mounted up to form heaps of solid garbage in some spots of the underground drainage line.
The task is certainly not easy. Driving through the labyrinth to dig out dirt is suffocating. However, the personnel involved, mostly young workers, are carrying out the task with extreme dedication. More than one hundred professionals are working on the rehabilitation project. They say this is for themselves and their people. Likewise inhabitants are equally encouraging.
ERINA (the Eritrean News Agency) spoke to several inhabitants. According to the interviews, they all feel grateful for the efforts by the youth workers despite the harsh nature they are facing in the canals. Many feel remorse for the bad habits of few irresponsible inhabitants who caused the damage. They reminded the city administration to make an action plan to avoid such mishaps.
The damage is surely big but the efforts put in place might guarantee the safety of the city once again. It is important that the African modernist icon, Asmara, is kept well both on the surface and underground.