Happy International Women’s Day!

Being a woman is not easy, International Womens Day Ghana

It’s true… but what happens if you phone the number?

by Zoe

Happy International Women’s Day from Ghana.

We’ve met a lot of amazing women since we’ve been in Ghana, and we’ve been privileged to be working with RAINS, an organisation that strives to make improvements in the lives of the inhabitants of Northern Ghana, particularly for women and girls.

But the fact remains that here in the Northern Region, only 25% of women are literate, and 60% of women have never attended school at all (2010 population and housing census, Ghana Statistical Service) – that’s a long way off achieving the Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education.

In addition, women in the Northern Region of Ghana work longer hours than men, and earn significantly less than men.

International Women’s Day is a reminder of what a privilege it is to have grown up in a country where education is often taken for granted. Check out the USAID infographic in our previous post, to see just how important girl child education really is.

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The environment is a secondary concern behind people’s livelihoods and rights.

By Rhogan

Is the environment a secondary concern behind people’s livelihoods and rights? Should it be? In my opinion the environment should not be secondary. However, I also believe that people’s livelihoods and rights should not be secondary to the environment either. I consider the environment and the sustainability of it to be an integral part of people’s livelihoods and rights.

In many developing areas alterations in the environment, whether positive or negative, is often very recognisable and has various effects on people’s lives. It could be a natural change such as lack of rainfall leading to drought or it could be a change in a particular environment due to human influences.

An example of this could be damming a river. Controversy has surrounded the construction of dams over the past 50 years because of their potential social, economic, and environmental impact.

Certain impacts of a dam are sometimes positive. Dams can control flooding, improve irrigation, provide hydroelectric power or regulate water supply. When concerning people’s livelihoods and the environment then the above points are certainly positive.

However, dams can also present negative impacts as highlighted below:

The author of “Social Impacts of Brazil’s Turucui Dam”, which was published in the Environmental Management journal in 1999, described how the Turucui dam displaced large numbers of people without adequate compensation and reduced downstream fish catches so much that the fish-dependent economy of Cameta collapsed.

I imagine many people would agree this infringes on the rights of these people and more than likely damages their livelihoods as well.

Additionally, examples of possible negative environmental impacts of dams are also available:

A 1990 internal survey of World Bank hydroelectric dam projects showed that 58% were planned and built without any consideration of downstream impacts, even when these impacts could be predicted to cause massive coastal erosion, pollution and other problems.

Furthermore,

…along the mouth of the Volta River in Ghana. Akosombo Dam has cut off the supply of sediment to the Volta Estuary, affecting also neighbouring Togo and Benin, whose coasts are now being eaten away at a rate of 10–15 meters per year. A project to strengthen the Togo coast has cost $3.5 million for each kilometre protected.

The Akosombo Hydroelectric Dam. Creates 1,020 MW of electricity but also displaced many people and had a significant impact on the environment.

Now the construction of dams is just one example of human intervention that can impact the environment. But I would consider that all human interventions on the environment would have a certain amount of impact, whether or not it is for better or worse. Yet I’d like to refer back to my initial statement. This was that, “I believe the environment and the sustainability of it is an integral part of people’s livelihoods and their rights”. I am of the opinion that human beings should harness whatever is possible from the environment to help aid our livelihoods. But in doing so also strive to improve our environment and most certainly not damage it, regardless of whether the damage caused is irreversible.

This is where I believe we have failed in the past. In some cases this could be put down to a lack of knowledge about the negative effects we are having. However, these days climate change is a topic many of us are aware of and for this reason I feel we have no excuse to be more sympathetic to our surrounding environment:

The World Commission on Dams (WCD), a multilateral commission wrote a seminal report in 2000 in response to a 1997 World Bank report on the highly controversial issues associated with large dams…

The report recommended that all dam projects should subscribe to:

 Five core values:

 Equity, sustainability, efficiency, participatory decision-making and accountability

 Seven priorities:

Gaining public acceptance

Comprehensive options assessment

Addressing existing dams

Recognising entitlements and sharing benefits

Ensuring compliance and sharing rivers for peace

Development

Security

These recommendations were echoed in the report, “Sharing the benefits of large dams in West Africa”, published by International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) in 2010. It highlights the areas of conflict that arose in the proposal and subsequent building stages of the Lesotho Highlands Water project. However, few of the financial institutions funding the building of dams, such as the World Bank, have adopted WCD’s recommendations.

I feel that institutions, such as the World Bank, have a major input on not only the environment but also people’s livelihoods and rights when they embark up on certain development projects. This being the case, I believe they hold a great responsibility for people and the environment. They should, therefore, always endeavour to preserve what is worthy and encourage the introduction of methods that help us to capitalise on our environment in a way that is sustainable and not detrimental to the environment or to human beings. If this is achieved, then the environment would not be a secondary concern to people’s livelihoods and rights. It would be a central concern that, when addressed, would contribute towards the improvement of people’s livelihoods and rights.

Why educate a girl?

The Comic Relief-funded project that we’re doing an impact assessment on here at RAINS has a huge emphasis on girl child education.

In Northern Ghana, where we live, poverty excludes many girls from education. There are a lot of organisations like RAINS and Camfed that focus on increasing school attendance by girls, and here’s an amazing infographic from US AID which shows why they bother:

US Aid Education Women girls Infographic statistics

Pipe dreams

by Tolu

water pipes Tamale GhanaWe moved into a new house in Tamale and the initial excitement of living in a humongous brand new house has quickly worn off. We’ve had no furniture, fridge, kitchen utensils, and to top it off no running water.

Being without water quickly gets you to appreciate the little things in life such as making a cup of tea, washing your feet after a dusty harmattan day and flushing the toilet. In moaning about our misfortunes, a joke was made about how our right to water was being infringed upon. But we clearly know that all we have to do is kick up a fuss, apply some pressure to the landlady and water will come gushing out of the taps. Not that this has worked for us as we’ve now been for almost a week without water, but we live in hope and expectation.

However, for a lot of people in Ghana, a steady supply of water is an intermittent luxury with little hope of a quick remedy. Tamale (where we are currently based) is one of the fastest growing cities in the country; the demand for water is around three times more than supply. The dry season makes water supply even more erratic, with households going more than a week without any water and in some extreme situations, up to a month.

The lack of adequate water supply has more far reaching consequences than not being able to have a shower or make a cup of tea.  It disrupts the education of children if they have to travel far to access water in the mornings, it affects healthcare if hospitals are also subject to water shortages and sanitation also suffers which brings on its own consequences.

The Human Right to Water has proved controversial in international law and was only formally acknowledged by the UN General Assembly in 2010.  Up until this point, there was no legal oligation on states to fulfil this right, merely a political acknowledgement that it existed.

The Ghanaian constitution does not explicitly contain a right to water, but Ghana has shown commitment by ratifying the 2006 Abuja Declaration where it pledged to promote this right. The Government also met its aim to reduce the number of people without water supply by 85% by 2015 in time for the Millennium Developments Goals deadline, ahead of the designated target set by the UN of 78%.

In addition, development organisations are working in northern Ghana to establish a better water supply for communities. There is clearly a desire for improvement and the new term of President Mahama inspires hope that even more positive change will be seen in the Northern region of the country.

For a more detailed explanation of the issues in this post, check out the Water Aid website.