The Atwima District Human Development Report: Analysis of the Rural Ghana (2004)

Based on:

National Planning Development Commission and the UNDP. District Human Development Report, Atwima District. 2004.

April 6, 2007

The purpose of a Human Development Report [HDR] is to provide a quantitative and a qualitative analysis of human development in a given area that goes beyond looking at the economics. Most importantly, an HDR should be accessible to the general population so that they can gain an understanding of various topics when analyzing their own development. Every year since 1997, Ghana has produced an HDR, but in order to further examine the growth of the nation, district HDRs began to be formulated, including the Atwima district which is of discussion here. The goal of the Atwima HDR is to “assist in the design and targeting of interventions aimed at improving upon the human development of the population” (2). Overall, the Atwima HDR’s format and flow of their findings are general and relatively straight forward, with enough ample statistics for a brief overview. On the other hand, its accessibility to the general population is questionable especially when the literacy rate of the people in Atwima is not at a level where development reports can be easily understood. Also interestingly enough, the HDR does not exactly give actual recommendations of what can be done to resolve issues but rather what can be done to entice the making of policy recommendations by others like the government and various NGOs. The tone of the HDR is one of hope, and although some bias is in existence, it provides an honest overview of human development in this rural district.

In the Atwima HDR, various aspects of development are discussed, including a brief profile of the district itself, and the assessment of trends of subjects such as poverty, education, literacy, health, and participation. Finally, the Atwima HDR discusses its main theme- vulnerability, followed by a discussion of the challenges and policy recommendations for Atwima. It is explained that vulnerability is the particular theme because it helps to identify the characteristics of low-income households who are unable to advance and improve their situations, and information gathered from such analysis makes it possible to create policies that addresses specific needs (4). The evaluation of human development in Atwima is performed within the framework of achieving the Millennium Development Goals, and the human development trends that are explained are trends that have been observed over the past five years (1999-2004). The quantitative and qualitative data gathered in the Atwima HDR was largely by a “participatory approach”, including official documents, secondary data from various censuses, the Core Welfare Indicators Questionnaire survey, socio-economic surveys conducted by the Centre for Policy Analysis, as well as various consultations with academics and local leaders (vi). Those involved in creating the HDR were also local academics and professionals, making the report more personal to Ghana and its people who are supposed to be the primary beneficiary of the report.

The general profile provided in the HDR of Atwima is quite useful, as it gives specific data that are important for understanding other parts of the report, such as population and environmental statistics, as well as the discussion of the government. Located in the western part of the Ashanti Region, Atwima is largely rural, with agriculture being the dominant source of economy, although there are hopes that the exiting mineral mines, such as gold, could bring revenue in the future for the district (7). Overall, this portion of the report addresses the basic and most important problems facing Atwima, with a special focus on the population demographics and the environment. The unbalanced age distribution of its population is a particular concern of the HDR, as even though Atwima has the highest population growth rate in the nation with 3.6%, its younger population is overwhelmingly dominating, with those under the age of 15 accounting for 43% of the population while those over 65 years of age account for 6% of the population (9). This creates great social security problems as well as future economic concerns, as it could mean that the working population may have to pay higher taxes to cater for the elderly (9). Another emphasized issue was the environment, such as the deforestation and other heavy human activities that are depriving the district of its natural resources in a speedy manner. The report states how “re-afforestation has not kept pace with the rate of exploitation” in Atwima and promotion of sustainable use of the forest has not been encouraging (vii). However, other than mentioning some example NGOs that are concentrated with the environmental concerns of Atwima, the HDR does not further discuss the issue or provide any meaningful recommendations.

In Part III of the HDR, there is a discussion of progress in human development in general, with a precise attention to the role of agriculture in Atwima, which is the main source of living for 65% of the population (27). The recent trend in this source of livelihood is how it is ceasing as the primary occupation among the younger population, as they are acquiring secondary jobs and migrating to the nearby capital of Kumasi, which is becoming increasingly urbanized (35). Many are also taking on additional jobs while being fully employed in agriculture, with the key reason being a lack of income (29). This is an important trend to pay attention to, as it relates to the population problem that the HDR has addressed previously, since the growing and moving working populations will create great tribulations for the economic progress of Atwima where agriculture still remains as the primary source of revenue. In the discussion of employment and agriculture, there are some data usage that are questionable; for example, the HDR concludes that farmers were happy with the government’s policy of mass spraying of pests and fertilizers in cocoa farms because “discussion with opinion leaders and informal conversation with cocoa farmers” proved so (27). It is followed by admitting that there was no actual scientific assessment of the degree of success of these policies at the time of the survey because it was not possible and because of time constraints (27). At another point in the report, the team makes an assumption that because unemployment is relatively moderate in Atwima (36.3%), it can be implied that people in this district on average are more likely to be working than compared to the rest of the country (31). This implication is a dangerous one because 36.3% unemployment rate still means that more than one in three is not working (34). For a report whose purpose is to accurately analyze human development, even if flaws are stated, making such conclusions in the first place should not take place. False hope is a dangerous phenomenon for a developing country, and therefore there should not be any conclusions when only questionable evidence is available.

The Atwima HDR’s study of education is another relevant aspect of the report, which begins by outlining the overall objective of education in Ghana, which is to achieve universal access to basic education with a special attention to geographical and gender equality by 2005 (36). The report discusses how to pursue education beyond the secondary level, students have to go out of district, and one of the reasons that such resources are not available in Atwima is because it is hard to get teachers to a district where there are poor roads, sanitation, and accommodations (37). The difference between rural and urban parts of Ghana is mentioned quite a few times throughout the HDR, as the report emphasizes how such differences affect various topics in development, such as education in this case. Such explanation is not only understandable but necessary, as the differences between rural and urban are quite large and influential in the economies, health, education, and general development of the district. Another positive analysis that the report makes in this section is the connection it makes between education and modernization and development of Atwima as a whole. This is an essential recognition as it gives more incentives to improve various specifics such as water supply and roads.

Another major problem in education that was reported in the Atwima HDR is withdrawal from school, which is about 7% of the students, and one of the main reasons and a disturbing one, is because of a lack of interest (46). This is a crucial problem as it is universally known that education is one of the primary necessities to better lives and one’s future, as well as a nation’s. To not have interest is alarming, and it needs to be addressed, and how it should be addressed is unfortunately not mentioned in the Atwima HDR. Another distressing predicament is the literacy rate of adults in Atwima; 57% of women in the lowest wealth quintile [which is the dominating distribution of the overall population] have no education, and this goes for nearly a quarter of the men in the same arena (49). The report does raise this concern, and also mentions that in order to achieve the national goal of universal education for Ghana, efforts must be doubled to ensure that there is “no reversal of the upward trend observed at these levels” (50). The irony of the breakdown of literacy and education in this report is that the HDR itself does not satisfy the general population of Atwima as it does not reflect the general literacy rates; rather, the report is best understood by those who are somewhat above average in the literacy rate, which does not represent the general population of Atwima.

The reporting of public health and health care in general is another noteworthy portion of the Atwima HDR, as it highlights the overall progress in the system with a defensive edge. The report utilized childhood mortality rates as broad indicators of social development and health status, which is another problematic method of investigation (56). Issues like elderly care and diseases due to migration cannot always be fully understood solely based on child mortality rates, especially when one of the basic promise of the Atwima HDR is to identify trends in human development over the past five years. It is a useful indicator, but more factors must be looked at to make solid, valuable conclusions. And this lack of true solid data is mentioned in the report, as it states that it assessing health improvement goals in Atwima is “very difficult because data on the mortality measures were scantly” and based on the available data, “no meaningful comment on the achievement of the millennium goals with respect to child and maternal can be made” (57). Although a lack of data is a huge problem in this HDR, admitting to this problem is at least responsible, since it eliminates the false hope factor to an extent.

The Atwima HDR’s remark on the HIV/AIDS is one that is defensive, as unfortunately, the number of reported HIV/AIDS cases in the district has increased since 1999 (60). Immediately after the mention of this terrible reality, the report states that this data is not convincing because it “could” be that people now find it less difficult to go to the health care facilities as a result of educational campaign about how to handle the disease in Ghana, and how overall, the number of cases for HIV/AIDS in Atwima is “under-disclosed” (68). One can think of many situations that can question the validity of this increase in HIV/AIDS epidemic, or any other problems raised in the observance of human development for that matter. Either way, the lone available statistic provided by the Atwima District Health Directorate in its 2003 Annual Report shows that in 1999, there were 25 reported cases and in 2003, there was 133 (60). Like its declaration of inadequate data to determine health improvements in Atwima, the report under the discussion of HIV/AIDS admits that improvement in public health is not progressing at a reasonable rate, and also mentions possible faults with the collected data. Again, this honesty is at least a positive inclusion for understanding this Atwima HDR.

Vulnerability, the main theme and the last section of the Atwima HDR gave attention to food, human, and job insecurity, and it was found that the average Atwima resident has a higher level of insecurity than the average Ghanaian (72). Through the survey methods, it was exposed that some of the types of events that lead to vulnerability in the community include natural disasters such as rainstorm and plant disease, as well as man made destructions such as land disputes, bush fire, and mining activity (72). The important issues that the discussion of vulnerability raises is how, like education, various societal aspects are connected together, such as economic progression, improving public health, and awareness. However, instead of providing some formal outline as to how such issues can be targeted, it instead criticizes the current movements to an extent, calling the existing public programs as “inadequate” and how the reason that the average citizen is critical of the government’s role is because of its limited number of beneficiary programs (84). Further, it goes on to describe the agendas as “safety ropes and ladders rather than safety nets”, and how no matter what is done, “disasters will strike a few and safety nets are needed for them to prevent people from falling deeper into deprivation when they face a crisis” (85). As an HDR, the Atwima HDR fails in this respect to assist in targeting interventions to improve the vulnerability situation, as it gives no real recommendations but resorts to condemn the existing system instead.

The formatting of the Atwima HDR unfortunately does not provide for the average people of Atwima as it does not match the literacy capabilities of the population. However, it is also not a document that can just be understood by the few elite intellectuals. The report is overall pretty broad, and gives ample explanations of certain ideas that may seem obvious. For example, in the education section of the HDR, the report notes that “infrequent attendance at school can impair the child’s learning and acquisition of skills and education” (85). This may seem like a very obvious statement, and almost unnecessary, but it reinforces better understanding of the HDR, especially if the reader is not the most educated but still literate enough.

Another major purpose that the Atwima HDR fails to address is giving true policy recommendations (even though the last section is titled ‘Conclusion and Policy Recommendations’). Instead, the report “calls for a careful mix of strategies to address different development needs” for other institutions, such as the government and NGOs, to take (87). The Atwima HDR reports how problems such as the disproportioned number of younger and older populations and the exploitation of the environment are important to address for the future development of the rural district, as it relates to the rate of vulnerability rates, as well as economic growth of the area and its people. It reports how the findings raise the need to find advanced methods that will promote sustainable use of the forests, but does not give any indication of what kind of method may work for this to occur. The only specific recommendation that the HDR explicitly makes is how the District Assembly could improve its feedback and follow up mechanism to ensure better communication with the people through the FM radio channels, which is the main source of news that people use in the district (88). Other suggestions are much broader, such as having “counter-cyclical social risk management policies” in rural areas to target the vulnerability factor (89). This weak outflow of recommendations is a critical fault in the Atwima HDR, as even though we are made aware that more accurate data and analysis must be gathered, recommendations could have still been compiled from the broad discussions of the issues facing Atwima.

The hopeful and sometimes defensive tone that is carried periodically in the Atwima HDR may affect the way that readers interpret the report, but either way, it does not completely fulfill the two very important roles of an HDR- to be accessible to the general population and to give ample recommendations based on the findings for improvement in human development. The Atwima HDR does provide some good background information regarding various topics such as education and health, but it still remains futile in its reporting of its main theme, vulnerability. This also has to do with the fact that vulnerability is a very dynamic, abstract concept to look at in human development, but because it was the theme of choice, it should have been further discussed and incorporated into other topics that were covered in the discussion. Its lack of access to the general population of Atwima is significant because they are the group of all the people that should get something rewarding out of the report. Knowledge and awareness in general is vital for the masses of any nation with critical issues in human development, and in order for progress to take place in a nation like Ghana in a more speedy, consistent manner, it is imperative that the public be aware of the significance of the issues that they face everyday. It is the public that has the power to make change and improve their conditions, but if they are ignorant about their livelihood, then the issues will continue to exist. By making the HDR more accessible to the common mass, it could have a more impact on the very issues that it makes it clear as important to address.

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