Mr. Speaker, this Statement is to draw the attention of the House to a developing tragedy of the onchocerciasis (oncho)-free zone: that is Government's inability to fulfil its promise of sustaining the development of the deprived but richly endowed valleys of these areas in Ghana.
Thanks to the joint efforts of the World Health Organisation, UNDP/FAO, Ghana Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, the disease is no longer of public health importance in these areas. But the poverty, deprivation and exclusion in these areas are of grave significance that needs urgent attention by Government.
It is a well-known fact that the Northern, Upper East and Upper West Regions record the highest levels of poverty in Ghana, with oncho being a contributory
factor to this poverty syndrome. People had to abandon the fertile lowlands along the Volta, Sissili and Kulpawn rivers because of the disease and the nuisance caused by bites of the flies.
Fortunately, in 1974 Government agreed with the WHO and other development partners to fight the disease and foster the holistic development of areas that would be freed from the scourge because of their socio-economic potential. The National Onchocerciasis Secretariat was established the same year under the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning to, among other things, co-ordinate the oncho control activities and ensure that the successful elimination of the disease was followed by developmental activities.
In the wake of the control activities (in the mid-1980s), the UNDP and FAO in particular supported Government in planning for the socio-economic development of the freed areas in the North, with the Government of Ghana (GoG) taking the lead role.
Additionally, it was agreed that the planning and implementation of development projects was imperative, and a necessary condition for reducing the severe poverty levels in the onchocerciasis free areas, and facilitating the reclamation/ reoccupation of the hitherto abandoned fertile lands. Thus, a number of studies were carried out under the auspices of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning and the UNDP/FAO. Workshops were held, development committees formed and regional, district and village levels, and the people were sensitised to await the implementation of these plans.
In the early 1990s, GoG provided minimal infrastructure -- a 35-kilometre road network, three health centres, a link bridge over Sissili River and hand- dug wells in ten communities -- in the “original overseas” area on a pilot
basis. However, since 1995 there has not been any indication that the planned development in terms of supporting agriculture, off-farm income-generating activities, and providing basic social infrastructure of the area would continue as no further representation on this has been made by Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning.
It is noteworthy that Ghana Vision 2020, having been shelved at the close of 2000, the over thirty-five thousand population of hard-working farmers in the Fumbisi-Wiesi-Yagaba-Kubori area, has been forgotten. Vision 2020 clearly identified the onchocerciasis-free zone (OFZ) of the North as needing special attention in the investment programmes designed to upgrade deprived areas. The Ghana Poverty Reduction Strategy (GPRS) document, as the current development template for the country, economises on the choice of words that favour any programme aimed at lifting the people of the OFZ out of deprivation.
It is clear from the above that the programme for the development of the OFZ in general and the Pride of the OFZ, that is the Gbedembilsi-Wiesi Rice Valleys in particular, has been shoved under the development carpet of Government. Farmers in the Fumbisi Valleys located in the Builsa South constituency of Upper East Region cry for tractors and rice milling centres while Government subsidises rice production in the developed countries by encouraging massive rice imports, under an externally triggered trade liberalization regime.
Women yearn for small credit for transporting their farm produce (rice, millets, groundnuts and processed fresh water fish in particular) to other marketing centres and to undertake other income-
earning activities without success.
For example, not a single woman from the OFZ Valleys has benefited from the Women Development Fund credit scheme, which has so far disbursed over ¢150 billion nationwide. Since 2001, not a single tractor has been made available to support rice farming in the valleys, not a single mill to process rice for the markets. How can poverty and deprivation be reduced and eventually terminated? How can the people cater for the education, health and well-being of their children?
To worsen the situation the Oncho Department, the agency mandated to co- ordinate and facilitate the socio-economic development of the OFZ is woefully underresourced in terms of budgetary allocation, personnel and logistics. Understandably, Government seems to be quietly in the process of winding up the activities of this agency in a bid to cut down on its budget. Should this happen, it is the poor farmers and their families who will be the worst for it.
To reverse this development tragedy of the Pride of the OFZ, I wish to draw Government's attention to some developmental issues:
First, accessibility is very poor. Builsa District as a whole can boast of only 5 kilometres of tarred road; for the Builsa South there is none. To be more realistic the footpath is the order of the day.
Second, for a population of 35,000 people in Builsa South, the inadequacy or lack of social infrastructure such as schools, health facilities gravely affect the development of the area.
T h i r d , t h e n o n - e x i s t e n c e o f telecommunication facilities negatively impacts on information dissemination and education.