Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Road to Damongo…

…is heavily striated.

I’m in Damongo, the capital of the district known as West Gonja, where I’ve travelled to analyse the District Water and Sanitation Team (see description in last blog entry). This analysis involves meeting with many people, including the DWST, the District Chief Executive (the top dog at the district – kind of like the mayor), the Planning Officer, and visiting a community with the DWST to see how they’re engaging in monitoring – basically how they’re making sure that the communities’ water and sanitation needs are being met.

A big problem here is that the DWST doesn’t engage in monitoring of small communities very often. “We don’t have fuel,” Issahaku, the team DWST team leader tells me. “There’s no money.” Issahaku, a short plump man with over 10 years’ experience at this job, is clearly frustrated. With no fuel for their motorcycles, they’re basically stranded in Damongo, the district capital. “And the district is too large. This means that when we do have fuel, we have to travel very far, on bad roads. Our motorbikes wear out too quickly.”

The roads are certainly rough, even though Damongo is a frequent stop-over for tourists on their way to Ghana’s largest game reserve, Mole National Park. After an afternoon on the back of Issahaku’s motorcycle, my legs are aching from trying to keep my feet on the footrests as we crawled along over the hundreds of bumps in the road.

So why doesn’t they have money for fuel? There’s a host of reasons for this, but a big one is a lack of funding at the district level. West Gonja receives some money from the central government (called the Common Fund) and some money from taxation (called Internally Generated Revenue [IGR]). The problem is that the amount of Common Fund money they get is directly proportional to their IGR.

“The more money we generate through taxation, the more money the central government will give us” explains Janet Al Hassan, West Gonja’s District Chief Executive.

So they just need to get more taxes, right? Unfortunately, large chunks of the West Gonjan population are “overseas”. This means that during the rainy season, rivers and flooded areas cut large swaths of the district off from the rest of West Gonja – they become completely inaccessible.

The farmers in these overseas areas can’t get their produce to market, so their produce can’t be taxed, so the District can’t increase their IGR, so their Common Fund won’t be increased by the central government.

This is a catch-22: the district doesn’t have enough money to build good roads and bridges to the overseas area, and their revenue won’t increase until the overseas areas are linked by good roads and bridges.

“The rich get richer while the poor get poorer,” says Janet Al Hassan. She, too, is clearly frustrated.

This example is to illustrate how some problems here are institutional, things that I’ll never be able to help with. It’s also to illustrate the complexity of many of the problems that are facing Ghanaians – the problems are almost never a simple matter of “rains fail: people go hungry.” Development, as any EWBer will tell you, is complex and frustrating.


Sidenote: I won’t be updating my blog next week – I’m heading up to Mali for a vacation. At least, I think that’s where I’m going. Given my sense of direction I’ll probably end up in the Atlantic Ocean. Maybe even the Pacific. But I’ll take pictures no matter where I end up

Pictures for this week:
1) My first wild scorpion sighting.
2) Obligatory cute kids shot.
3) Confusing painting on wall at guest house where I’m currently staying.

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Bruce said...

Hey Luke. That's a scary looking little critter on the wall.
Nice haircut, by the way. Hope your holiday went well.

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Kyle said...

Luke, I'm jealous.

That photo of you and the kids is totally gonna be an EWB christmas card. I can already see the look on my mom's face when she opens the envelope and sees that photo.

I too wish to sell you a product by posting a comment on your blog. Please visit my site as well.

Thank you for your time.

Tim Greenway said...

Hi Luke,

I used to live in Damongo for 2 years working with the British charity 'Voluntary Service Overseas. I was the 'Engineer' at West Gonja Hospital, working to get the World Bank 'Hospital Engineering Service' workshop back on its feet. If you're ever over there, speak to Kwame or Mushie Abudu in the workshop or Sr Beatrice in the District Health Authority.
Understand your frustrations and I think things have deteriorated since I left in 2001. The church was always a good source of funding but I couldn't believe them watering plants with a hosepipe at the Catholic Guest House when the boreholes even then were drying up...
As for maintenance of the bikes, the hospital workshop should be able to help and when I was there, I made a bicycle 'ambulance' to be used as a general purpose trailer (or patient carrier). It was with Mushie but whether its not been 'spoiled', who knows.

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