By: Joel Ayim Darkwah
Assistant Programme Officer (Sustainable Development)
March 2017 started with an exciting challenge. I had the opportunity of travelling to northern Ghana to monitor some projects on disaster preparedness and to assess their impact. As I journeyed from the national capital through the forest belt to the savanna region, I couldn’t help but engage myself in deep thoughts about development across the country, but in particular, the savanna region where many challenges persist.
From Tamale to Bunkpurugu, from Chereponi to Saboba and Zabuzugu, I saw the great strides that various development entities including UNDP have made to empower the lives of people living in such harsh terrains.
I saw people who now have access to potable water, children going to school and some enjoying the lunch provided through the School Feeding Programme. The joy on the faces of these little ones taught me that they appreciate the gains made from the interventions and of course, more children will need such assistance to enjoy school.
A few days after my trip to the north, I read from the 2016 Human Development Report that such progress is realized not only in Ghana but also in most parts of the developing world, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa and East Asia.
The report indicates that from 1990 to 2015, most countries in the developing world have achieved a significant improvement in gender equality, governance, environmental sustainability, access to education, healthcare, clean water, technology and other basic social services. It noted that the improvement has been impressive in Sub-Saharan Africa, where for instance the proportion of the population with access to an improved drinking water source rose from 48 percent in 1990 to 68 percent in 2015, and in East Asia, where the proportion rose from 68 percent in 1990 to 96 percent in 2015.
Granted, Ghana has achieved a lot in the last 15 years, within the context of human development. Governments over the years have consciously worked to improve democratic governance, water and sanitation, healthcare, education and other social service. Yet, significant challenges remain.
While many in northern Ghana have increased access to clean drinking water, many more communities in this area go through a daily struggle to get potable water. Many women, who through socially constructed roles, are responsible for home care, still walk many kilometers daily to get water for domestic use.
Though some progress has been made with gender parity, significant gender inequality persists in these areas. For instance, at most community meetings during my mission, some women could not express themselves in the presence of men. Human development is about enlarging freedoms so that all human beings can pursue choices that they value such as the freedom of agency, represented by voice and autonomy. Evidently, there is still more to be done to empower women to express their views, expand their capabilities and have the freedom to make choices.
The daunting challenge of youth unemployment was very evident, as young people walked around with nothing to do. Others who own farms idled about, in a long wait for the rains before they resume farming. In my trip, I saw many children idling at home during school hours and many girls who have become mothers while still in their teen years.
Environment resources are also getting depleted at an alarming rate. For instance, the northern landscapes are getting drier; more trees are being lost to bush fires and illegal logging; water bodies are fast drying up as a consequence of climate action. Robust measures are still needed to increase the resilience of the people who are predominantly farmers and need these resources to survive.
At the top of all these, was an observation on a government structure that needs further strengthening to enhance governance and development at the local level through an effective decentralization system. Coordination amongst government agencies and the local government structures should also be effective to be able to deliver development to the people.
This experience has challenged me to do more and to do better; for never have I seen how important our mandate is and how powerless and deprived many more people will be if we relent on our responsibilities.
Some success was chalked in the past 15 years when the world implemented the Millennium Development Goals. But there is much more to be done to empower the lives of many more people and nations across the world. To borrow the words of the UNDP Administrator, Helen Clark, we can build on what we have achieved, we can explore new possibilities to overcome challenges and we can attain what once seemed unattainable. Hopes are within our reach to realize.
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (The 2030 Agenda) presents governments, civil society, the private sector, development partners and private citizens another opportunity, more than ever before, to continue to empower lives and build resilient nations.
This blog has been originally published on 18 April 2017.