The New Northern Ghana Irrigation Initiative: Positives and Challenges
The Vice-President Alhaji Aliu Mahama?s recent tour of northern Ghana saw the inauguration of several rural projects in communities where the realities of rural poverty are most pronounced. For traditional rulers from Sandem-Naab, Ayieta Azantilow, through Chiana Pio , Pe Roland Auagitam II, to the, Fumbisi-Naab, Clement Anyatui Akanko, the urgent problems were nothing more than the need to provide basic community infrastructure, which may be of no headache in other parts Ghana.
The picture is thus clear, that much needs to be done in the north, and it was time that the regional coordination councils, sons and daughters of the area to stood up to the task of making a difference in the fortunes of Ghanaians living in Northern Ghana.
The Ghana Statistical Service Living Index from 2000 to 2004 has consistently shown that northern Ghanaians are among the poorest of the regions. These statistics make any new development initiatives significant to warrant attention by analysts and those who would want to see positive outcomes for northern Ghana. On this occasion, the Vice- President announced a new Ghana Government initiative to revamp food production through the construction of 36 new irrigation purpose dams, and I see this as a great opportunity for action from every person and institution in Northern Ghana.
The proposal to build these irrigation-purpose dams in the 3 northern regions could not come at any better time than now, when some parts of the West African sub-region, with semi-arid conditions like northern Ghana are faced with serious famine. The news coming out of Niger in recent weeks is of concern to many governments and communities, as it demonstrates the unexpected and unpredictable effects of climate change. More so, for many areas of northern Ghana, which are within the voltaic sandstone basin, surface dams are the best solution for adequate water supply because of the limited ground-water attributable to the physical geography of the area. It is therefore laudable that our government has taken this initiative to channel /harness the available natural resource for water and food security.
The Israelis and many desert-dwelling people have demonstrated to us that the lack of rain must not remain forever a real excuse to be hungry. Israel has cultivated deserts and grown food even for export to Ghana and Europe, yet we are hungry even though we have at least 5-6 months yearly rainfall in all parts of Ghana. Perhaps Ghana and the northern regions are waking up now to the idea that our salvation lies in making use of what we have to the best of our ability.
It is expert opinion that our failure to achieve the priced objective of general food security includes the refusal to adopt proven scientific methods developed by local institutions such as the Savannah Agricultural Research Institute (Nyankpala). However, there is also now the growth of a culture of helplessness, the refusal to use our resources creatively, and the emergence of a selfish entrepreneurial class of people in Ghana who are more interested in their profits than performing to meet the standards and needs of the community.
There are many positives in this initiative announced by Government, but there are also several challenges relating to the roles of contractors, and the regional coordinating councils, and the approaches to implementing the programs in the designated communities.
In my view, The Vice president?s message to contractors who will be constructing the new dams was absolutely important, and directly related to the failed development initiatives in northern Ghana in the last decades. The Veep said that dam construction is a capital-intensive business, and contractors who execute such projects need to ensure good quality work and the longevity of the facility. This short message, applicable to the wider community of Ghana, is loaded with meaning, values and conscience, which serious minded administrators and contractors working in the north must reflect seriously upon. Undoubtedly, the long-term benefits of such huge capital investments depend on how well these dams are constructed in terms of the acceptable standards of safety and sustainability. Thus, our contractors need to grasp the true magnitude of responsibility imposed upon them when they execute these projects.
Sustainability Versus Values
Many contractors in Ghana are prone to doing shoddy jobs or taking money for projects, which are never completed for 20 years, and eventually abandoned. Although the blame is often attributed to lack of funding or to political changes, the pendulum swings more towards the lack of values and care for our communities.
In fact, one can find hundreds of such projects throughout Ghana. In the north, from Bole to Nandom, and from Zabzugu to Bawku /Zebilla, one can find projects shoddily done or abandoned after the contractors have shamelessly misappropriated the monies allocated full their execution. These shoddy projects cover all manner of infrastructure from roads and bridges to indispensable public structures like clinics and schools. Unfortunately, people in our communities appear not to take issues with those who execute projects of such poor quality.
The issue of meeting standards is very important in the project sustainability equation, and for the communities in northern Ghana it is usually more worrying to know that some of such shoddy or poor quality jobs are executed by their own sons. It is hard to imagine that these sons are able to display such selfish and carefree attitudes toward the happiness of people in their home communities, including future generations. Some contractors have been known to have put-up leaky classrooms and clinics where their own children sit to get an education or health care. Others have tarred town-roads, which have been washed away after only one rainy season. It is disheartening, and must not be allowed to happen to the new dams.
The break-up / collapse of the Tamale dam in August 1989, which caused destruction to life and property shows why when it comes to dams, the issue of safety to the community is a priority. The vice presidents? advice ought to evoke (in all Ghanaian contractors especially those working in the area) the high spirit to apply their values and concern for the communities to their work.
Sustainability Versus Ostentation
The question of sustainability of this new initiative brings to mind the utilisation of resources (material and human) in a way that this new initiative becomes more sustainable. It relation to this, it might be beneficial for Government to shy away from projects of ostentation to projects of functionality. Such a shift in paradigm requires among other things that we give more consideration to small-scale dams managed by closely-linked communities, as against large-scale dams, which usually appear to lack clear community ownership.
The existing irrigation schemes in the north, including Tono, Vea and Bontanga certainly provide us with invaluable knowledge of the issues that both enhance and hinder the effective management and sustainability of irrigation schemes. Some aspects of the existing schemes have been mismanaged, their potentials have not been maximised, and net outcomes have been disappointing.
This provides basis for one to argue that the projects have not lived up to expectation, and justifies the public having concerns about the approaches to employ in the implementation of the new projects announced by the government. Since this new initiative is also government driven, and it reasonable to expect that the problems facing the existing irrigation schemes, are more likely to envelope the new ones even before they are able to properly take-off, unless the implementation approaches are altered. For this reason, I am curious and concerned about the way the new irrigation dam projects are designed, and how they will be executed in the communities. At this stage nothing has been declared about community involvement in the projects, but it is important that the beneficiary communities be organised, trained and oriented about the projects long before the dams are built. This type of approach where the beneficiary communities are sensitised about the project and trained to manage the projects ensures that attitudes of community members and direct users of the dam facilities are tailored towards the philosophy of sustainability. The Bontanga project would have taught us a good lesson, and I hope the Irrigation Development Authority should change course on these new projects
The Tamale Catholic Church?s Village Water Reservoirs Project, (which has provided dam/irrigation schemes since 1989) developed and employed a model of dam project delivery to rural communities that could be studied and adopted by Government for the new beneficiary communities. Having worked for the Village Water Reservoirs project in the early 1990s, I believe that their model has the chance to ensure sustainability because the communities get to know how to manage the projects with minimal outside support.
If this new Government initiative is to change the fortunes of northern Ghana in terms of food security, water supply, more specialised grain supply to the rest of the country, and propel economic growth, then plans need to be developed to facilitate the pulling of resources by the three northern regions towards the creation of an integrated economic vision. The vision, I would entreat, should take cognisance of the importance of the dams/irrigation projects to the future improvement of the economies of the regions, through sustainable agriculture and employment generation.
In Part II, attention will be given to the creation of an integrated economic vision, and the roles to be played by the regional coordinating councils and social /development organisations of Northern Ghana.