Survival in the face of poverty
Ghanaians are turning to lotteries, churches, charlatans and sheer trickery to survive in these turbulent economic times. The media are replete with cases of family members even trying to sell children. Very often, these culprits are arrested as their prospective buyers feign interest and report to the police. Children well below the legal age of working have been documented working in very outrageous conditions.
Sick, poor people unable to pay for the huge hospital bills have run off from their hospital beds before being discharged in order to avoid the high cost of health care.
On the national level, the government reckons the nation is poor and in 2001, applied for the status of a Heavily Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) as a basis to get Ghana s debts cancelled by the international community.
The concept of poverty and definition of the poor vary in accordance with the perspective of those doing the defining. While recent studies in Ghana suggest that overall poverty has declined, the decline has mostly been manifested for those working outside the agricultural sector.
Amongst the rural folks, who engage in agriculture and constitute over 60 per cent of the total population, poverty has been on the ascendancy instead. Thus, a major cause of the increased incidence of rural poverty in Ghana can, in part, be attributed to the sluggish growth of the agricultural sector, averaging about 2.5 per cent over the last decade.
The depth of poverty shows how chronic the situation is. Presently, majority of Ghanaians have no access to good sanitation facilities. Women in Ghana experience far greater poverty. Gender disparities exist with respect to access and control of a range of assets including direct productive assets such as land and credit, human capital assets including education and health, and social capital assets such as participation at various levels, legal rights and protection.
Dr Richard Benjamin Turkson, Executive Director of the National Population Council (NPC) reckons: There is still a great deal of legitimate concern about the feminisation of poverty . He adds: Education therefore remains an essential tool for development and key to women s equal participation in every sphere of activity, from decision-making about family size to economic and political life.
Existing disparities in social conditions between urban and rural, northern and southern sectors of the country and male and female, make rural females and children, particularly in the northern regions of the country, the most vulnerable.
Since the 1980s, considerable efforts have been made by successive governments to improve the social conditions of Ghanaians and ameliorate some of the social costs/hardships of economic adjustment.
Poverty is not only defined by the low level of income but also the absence of medical services, lack of good drinking water and inability to participate in governance among others, explains Kofi Kwakye, a sociologist.
The Deputy Minister of Women and Children's Affairs, Kofi Adusei Poku, also recognises that. Poverty is not only the lack of resources but also the denial of opportunities and choices to improve one s quality of life .
Indeed, despite their right to the basic necessities of life, the poor often find their rights trampled upon in diverse ways. The judiciary has over the years been perceived to be offering justice to the highest bidder. The Chief Justice, Mr. Justice George Kingsley Acquah, conscious of these complaints, has since asked the judiciary to act with great deal of circumspection in dealing with public complaints in the light of the growing accusations.
In the government s bid to attract mining concerns to the country, some poor villages have suffered the brunt. Some have been uprooted from their ancestral homes in order to pave way for gold mining activities in their areas.
In some instances, compensation has been inadequate and their farming ventures have collapsed as a result of the increased activities of the mining firms. Even their rivers have not been spared - cyanide spillage from these mining activities has served to compound their problems.
Unequal trade terms have also subjected Ghanaian farmers to severe difficulties as the influx of cheap foreign items keeps eroding any economic benefits from farming. The exodus of health professionals has also accentuated the situation. The Vice-President, Aliu Mahama worried about this, recently urged doctors, nurses and other health workers to accept the responsibility to stay and help build the country.
Through the Millennium Development Goals, Ghana, like many other countries, is now addressing the many dimensions of extreme poverty. The Ghana Poverty Reduction Strategy, is the framework under which the country s development hinges.
It is also the framework of reference for the country s debt management under HIPC. Ghana became officially eligible to HIPC funds in June 2001. Since then, she has witnessed the cancellation of some of her debts. The accruing benefits have since been disbursed among beneficiary poor communities.
There is a lot to be done in reducing Ghana s poverty. A cost-effective way of fighting poverty is effective utilisation of existing institutional capacity rather than creating new institutions. The district assemblies, which have been set up as the primary governmental institution for local, district and municipal development provide an excellent opportunity for formulating poverty reduction strategies.
To date, institutional mechanisms for poverty reduction have been established. Continuous poverty monitoring systems have been initiated. Formulation of action programmes for poverty reduction is on-going.
Financial access to health care is set to be improved through the promotion of a health insurance system and the establishment of a Health Insurance Fund this year, to take over health financing from the current cash and carry system.
In spite of the efforts to reduce poverty, the level of poverty in Ghana is still too high. And with the grim future prospects for the Ghanaian economy, the poverty situation would only improve if there were greater effort to alter the strategies, the focus and the content of policies aimed at poverty reduction and to review economic policies to achieve higher economic growth.
Above all, the strategy must encompass a broad-based pattern of public sector spending on basic social services and must elicit the support, the confidence, participation, and the collaboration of the people.