The Gash River suffers, Kassala locals at risk of disease
by Hamid Ibrahim
KASSALA - The Gash River, the Sudanese city Kassala’s main water source, is under threat unless there is action -- and soon.
The Gash, which forms a natural border between Eritrea and Ethiopia, runs through Eritrea where it is known as Mareb River. It provides vital drinking water for the settlement of Kassala. But environmentalists warn that the river is being harmed by development -- posing a threat to both humans and animals in the region. “Authorities have allowed the establishment of housing projects near the river, which resulted in disposing garbage and even defecating directly in the river, acts that have been officially forbidden in the past,” said Environmental Activist Mohamed Fteh Othman Aheimer, Head of the Sudanese Association for Environmental Protection in Kassala State.
He explained that agriculture and livestock have also weakened the soil and developments in the region, contributing to desertification. “Without the Gash there would be no Kassala,” he said.
Citizen Othman Hasaballah from Halnaga neighbourhood near the Gash said: “Defecating in and livestock husbandry near the river have been causing serious problems for the residents including flies’ breeding, especially the dangerous big-sized kind that infects the residents with contiguous diseases such as diarrhoea and bilharzia.”
Yehi Ali Yehi, Head of the People’s Committee of Wehda Neighbourhood, told the Niles that the establishment of red bricks dykes along the river’s bank has contributed to allergy respiratory diseases and triggered a number of miscarriages. “The government should prevent the establishment of dykes around residential areas,” he said.
Mohamed Jaafar Mohamed, Head of Kassala Municipal Office, acknowledged that the Gash River was under pressure, a fact he blamed on the lack of health and environmental awareness of citizens particularly in the suburbs. “This is all our responsibility,” he said, adding that local authorities conduct routine sanitation schemes twice a month to remove waste from the riverbed.
He said dykes provided valuable jobs but added that he would remove them in the near future.
The Sudanese Association for Environmental Protection in Kassala, registered in 1992, had planned forestry development along the banks of the river. Much of this scheme to preserve the soil has taken place, although Aheimer said it had not been implemented inside the city of Kassala.
The Sudanese Association for Environmental Protection submitted a proposal to forest the surrounding areas of Kassala and is distributing awareness pamphlets to state schools and conducting an informative workshop about the rivers of Tkazain and Gash.
Despite these plans, the river is severely damaged. Higher temperatures, scarcity of rain, drifting sand dunes and the decrease of productivity affect the region, which observers said sparked an excessive use of chemicals, the accumulation of dirt, a rise in the number of mosquitos, spread of malaria and a dusty atmosphere.
It is feared that poverty and illiteracy means that many locals are unaware of how to solve the problems affecting their river. Little action is likely to be taken in the near future, meaning that disease will spread and inhabitants will suffer.