Ghana Combats Social Costs of Economic Reform

JUST a few minutes drive from the ``Afrikiko,'' one of the fancy restaurants that has sprouted here since Ghana embarked on an internationally funded reform program, the landscape gives way abruptly to Nima, Accra's worst slum. Years of economic decline forced Ghana in 1983 to embark on one of the most vigorous structural adjustment programs on the continent. The government devalued the currency, increased agricultural prices, slashed subsidies, and trimmed the civil service.

The results are impressive: The gross domestic product has grown an average of more than 5 percent each year, inflation has dropped from a 123 percent annual rate of inflation to a 30 percent annual rate, and export earnings have doubled. Cocoa farmers now earn 12 times what they did in 1982. And government incentives, coupled with an influx of Western expatriates into Ghana, have spurred new businesses.

But ``despite promising medium-to-long-term growth prospects, the economy is characterized by widespread poverty and economic hardship'' a government report says.

This hardship fuels ongoing Africa-wide protests that IMF- and World Bank-sponsored economic reform programs on the continent exacerbate the plight of the poor.

So Ghana's government last year created the first-ever donor-funded ``Program of Actions to Mitigate the Social Costs of Adjustment'' (PAMSCAD).

One project is under way in Nima. Meandering through ramshackle homes belonging to unemployed migrant workers, an open drain had become both an eyesore and health hazard.

Because of inadequate refuse facilities in the neighborhood, explains Joseph Amoah, a Nima resident, inhabitants threw their garbage into the wide, shallow furrow. Mosquitoes bred in the stagnant pool. And when the rains came, the drain ``flooded its banks, pouring dirt into the homes of anyone who lived nearby,'' Mr. Amoah recalls.

So a group of previously unemployed workers, clad in rubber boots, and behind a brightly colored sign marked ``PAMSCAD,'' have begun to dredge and deepen the drain. When they are through, says Amoah proudly, ``the drain will flow again, and it will not overflow its banks.''

A PAMSCAD report last year says that the most vulnerable Ghanaians are women and children, urban poor, and farmers in Ghana's impoverished north. These groups are the priority targets of PAMSCAD projects that include 100 community-initiated self-help projects, credit and other assistance for the unemployed, credit for womens' cooperatives, adult literacy classes, and a ``Priority Public Works Project'' generating jobs.

Because of Ghana's high profile internationally, and support from United Nations agencies like the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the government had little trouble drumming up $84 million for PAMSCAD projects at a conference last year. Yet critics have accused PAMSCAD of being little more than ``conscience money,'' which only scratches the surface of Ghanaians' problems.

Joe Abbey, Ghana's high commissioner to London, an economist and key architect of the reform program, retorts that while these projects do not address all of Ghana's social problems, they provide some hope.

Despite a population of 80,000, Nima has just one clinic and 13 schools. There is enough piped water to allow each person - theoretically - one and a half minutes usage a day, UNICEF says.

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