Just off the mountainous coastline of the Volta Lake in the Afram Plains North District, there are magic islands, known to most Ghanaians as “The Dwarf Islands,” where spirits walk, spells and incantations course through the humid air and rival bands of traditional doctors wage a constant struggle for supremacy.
It is home to almost 3,000 people living in multi-tribe communities, mostly Ewes, Fantes, Gas, Ningos, Lartehs and Akuapems, among others, in the middle of the Volta Lake. It is a place of lush natural beauty, and the curving beaches are surrounded by deep-red cliffs, the forests of acacia and stringy-bark stretch away.
The Dwarf Islands may not be the most significant place in the country. However it has some characteristics that it could take pride on. Blessed with rich soil, the Dwarf Islands host not less than 118 communities, namely Cedikokpe, Nyakuikokpe, Kokrobuta, Galelia, Menekokpe, Digborkokpe, Tegenikokpe, Batirkokpe and Ada-ntetia, among others.
The people are predominately farmers, but selectively crops, fish and animal producers, while the Islands have their place in history too, as an integral part of the voyage by the Volta Lake to save many.
Behind the beauty of Dwarf Islands lies poverty and neglect which should have been one of the best diving spots in the world and a tourist paradise.
Early in the morning, any person walking past the coast will see large beautiful blue water, but the appeal of the image hides the abject poverty of the people living on the islands.
The Islands are a pristine and bio-diverse marine environment where you can see colourful tropical flowers and birds with the naked eye as you walk through the communities. It has abundant natural beauty that makes them look like an earthly paradise. But of the more than 3,000 residents, around 90% live below the poverty line with poor access to education, health care and markets.
A cursory assessing by The Republic shows that, one out of a household of four-to-five people in Dwarf Islands experienced snakebite in a month and a huge sum of money is spent on anti-venom and other medicines to save their lives.
In spite of the fact that the Afram Plains North is one of the food baskets of the country, it remains one of the most deprived areas in the country. Access to markets, storage facilities, prompt health care, mobile connectivity and quality basic education, among other facilities, is the serious development challenge in the area.
No road network
The Dwarf Islands, though is geographically closer to each other, the absence of a road network, especially from one community to another, makes life more burdensome than hard.
There are virtually no roads, not to talk of them being poor leading to the farming areas. What are there are actually footpaths, some of which animals, by virtue of their tough nature, turn into paths and serve as roads for motorbikes.
Indeed, besides outboard motors and speedboats use on the lake, the only other means to get to the farming areas to convey farm produce to the banks of the lake to market centres is the motorbike and head pans by women.
This, obviously, is a disadvantage, as some farmers convey their produce to the marketing centres only to use all the money to pay board charges.
The situation is so terrible that moving from one community to another is almost like punishment. It was not surprising that elecion materials got to some parts of the Afram Plains North late, compelling the Electoral Commission (EC) to extend the voting time beyond the normal time during the 2012 general elections.
Food producers, no storage facility
Common food items produced in the Islands are maize, cassava, rice, yam, potatoes, pepper, okra, tomatoes and variety of exotic vegetables. Fishing on the lake is a major and big time business, but is now becoming seasonal as illegal activities of sand-winning and ‘galamsey’ affect the water, and therefore reducing the population of fish in the lake.
Another economic venture which the locals claimed is becoming a booming business is charcoal burning, but its tedious nature of processing is making it unattractive to the youth.
Transportation on the boat from Afram Plains to Dzemani in the South Dayi District in the Volta Region where they trade their market, residents pay not less than GHc5.00 as a passenger and GHc6.00 per bag of charcoal and any other luggage depending on weight is free.
Since the farmers do not have reliable storage facilities to preserve their produce, those who cannot afford the charges of the outboard motors leave their produce to go waste on their farms, while others prefer producing just enough for their own consumption and for exchange for fish, salt and other basic needs.
It is out of this frustration that the Member of Parliament for the area, Ms Betty Nana Efua Krosbi Mensah, is seeking investors to assist the people to put up silos as storage facilities to help store their produce, especially maize, during a glut.
Lack of health care
Access to healthcare in the Islands is more of mystery than intervention, as there is no any form of clinic – public or private. The only health centre which was put up in 2004 by the government has been abandoned and had become a haven for bats and other wild animals. The clinic, which was built at the Nyakuikokpe on the Islands, to provide healthcare services to residents and neighbouring island communities had its ceiling falling, while portions of its roofing leaking and making easy for rain water to come in.
Currently, there are four government nurses whose work could only reach out to seven scattered communities out of the 118 Dwarf Islands surrounded by the Volta lake.Working conditions are hard. Many of their patients are the fishers who leave their house at five in the morning and return at five in the evening. Health workers have to be on standby all the time.
Samuel Denteh is a nurse with the Ghana Health Service (GHS) and was posted to the Menekokpe community in 2014. He lives in a mud house, which also serves as a place of dispensary for his clients.
He told The Republic that, the most common ailments facing the people are malaria, diarrhea, snake bites, skin infections and respiratory diseases.
According to Denteh, death during childbirth, or infant mortality, and maternal mortality, is common for the women. Only basic and generic medicines are available in the clinic, and sometimes stock is scarce. He is a nurse but he cannot administer anti-venom on his clients, that is a preserve for doctors, but they do not have a resident doctor, as a result some of them died on the way to seek major healthcare across the lake.
“It is pathetic, but we have to cope with, only four nurses serving over seven communities is not easy. I spent a week in one community then move to another spent days in that order. At times, we have to use our own money to buy medicine or as transport to cross other towns to access health services if the condition is beyond our services. Most of them do not have NHIS card and those who even have at times their sickness is beyond NHIS or no medicine even when they are covered,” Denteh lamented.
It is obvious that living on an isolated island with no access to healthcare is hell more than risk. Health workers posted to the Island do not stay beyond a month or two and doctors never show up. The GHS is aware but policy makers and government do not make the effort to alleviate the plight of the people. Patients needing emergency care, such as chronic malaria, often die. The only hospital with decent equipment is located in the mainland city, Donkokrom, 135 kilometres away.
It is sad that the whole of Afram Plains North, which constitutes a third of the entire Eastern Region, has just one hospital, the Donkorkrom Presbyterian Hospital, with very limited facilities. Yet it is expected to serve the health needs of the people, including the Islands.
This paper is informed that the water ambulance which was presented to the Ghana Health Service for communities living on the islands has never moved a distance away from the shores of the lake where it has been docked ever since it was brought.
Expectant mothers and those critically ill have no other option but to rely on traditional birth attendants or the ordinary outboard motors to be able to get to the only hospital serving the district or nearby communities across the Volta Region to access healthcare.
Poor quality education
Due to their high poverty rate and the difficulties in accessing road transportation, the Dwarf Islands does not have quality education. Only 2.2 percent of the government’s budget goes toward education. Only few or 30 percent of children even have access to any kind of primary or basic education.
If a child does attend school, he or she has to deal with a shortage of teachers and classroom materials. Not only are half of all teachers unqualified, but they also struggle to receive payment for their services. In addition, less than half of the schools have structures not to talk of access to books.
On the Dwarf Islands, 97 percent of schools are mud built through communal labour by the residents, and even those put up by government are also not in good shape, as they have developed cracks and almost grounded.
Almost all communities visited appealed for education and health care facilities. Hopefully, the MP Betty Krosbi Mensah will provide them, as she assured to prioritize education in the communities in the coming years and break the cycle of poverty on the Dwarf Islands.
Poor mobile connectivity
On mobile connectivity, a larger part of the area is “out of coverage area,” and the most reliable networks there are MTN and Vodafone. So, even though Afram Plains North has investment potential, the “out of coverage area” syndrome is a great disservice and can discourage investors to the area. In some communities, people have to move to certain locations, especially hill tops or on trees to make calls.
The Afram Plains North has a number of attractions that make it a haven for tourists. The water transport system, the dotted islands that coined the name, ‘Dwarf Islands’ and the serene and quiet environment is perfect for relaxation. Thus it can become a hideout for the tired brain and the weary soul. It can also be a perfect place for recollection, reflection and meditation. No wonder the MP expressed her readiness to build her house there to get closer to her constituents and also enjoy the breeze from the lake at night.
Scraping a living in abundance
Being in an area abundant with fish and other foodstuff, most people on the island earn their living as fishers and crop farmers, but a lot of them still live in extreme poverty. Most families are indebted to the local mini-store owner, who sells staple goods.
The price for the fish they sell is so low that even if they catch 10 kilograms of fish every day, they still lose money. Fishers need five litres of fuel a day to operate their outboard boats. But fuel at times become scarce and very expensive, and a litres costs GHc10.00.
What they need most, as fishers, are bigger boats, cheaper fuel and access to markets to get a better price for their fish. But a decent boat with an engine that can carry a larger volume of fish costs more than GHc2000.00, which is impossible for them to afford.
Poverty in midst of resources
Although the Dwarf Islands was striving to build a modern infrastructure on their larger, more populated primary islands, there is no service delivery mechanism in place, or a leader with vision to try and connect their numerous inhabited remote islands to even the most basic health care, education and economic development services. Investors are not aware of the investment potentials on the Island, because it had never been the interest of past leaders, including their representation in parliament, since the 1990s.
Previous legislators who represented the Afram Plains North but paid not much attention to their plight included Krosbi Mensah, Joseph Tsatsu Agbenu and Emmanuel Aboagye Didieye. They expressed their intention but never took the bold step to reach the people on the islands to improve their condition.
It was out of this that, the current MP, Ms Betty Krosbi Mensah, daughter of the first MP for the area, Krosbi Mensah, gathered the courage and visited some of the islands to share her vision with them. According to her, during the 2016 general elections, she promised that, when given the nod, she will never turn her back on them, whether rain or shine.
Accompanied by some executive members of the constituency, including the Chairman Prosper Ganilor, Vice Alhaji Alhassan Fuseini, SecretaryTaidu Mohammed and Hamza Laitif, executive member, Ms Betty Mensah visited seven of the over 117 island communities to thank them for their support and votes and to reassure them of her ambition to develop the area.
She paid courtesy calls on the chiefs in the communities, including, Togbe Mene III of Menekokpe, Togbe Digbor III of Digborkokpe Togbe Hortsore II, Nyakuikokpe, Togbe Tsornyake II, Tegenikokpe, Togbe Nyamesorto III, Batorkokpe, and Togbe Totsi II, Ada-ntetia, where she took time to explain what she had been able to do within her first 100 days in parliament.
“Hon. Betty,” as she is affectionately called by her constituents, said she will prioritize education and health during her tenure as MP and asked the people to support her by providing communal labour for some of the projects she will bring to them.
She said, the only source of funds is the MPs Common Fund, but she will use her position as MP to lobby for special projects to be provided, while seeking foreign investors to come on board to open the area for development.
The Dwarf Islands, “Hon. Betty” said, has vast lands suitable for all year around agricultural farming and she will work to bring investors in irrigation and tourism sector to open the area for jobs for the youth especially.
As part of her support to the people for development, the MP donated 20 bags of cement, a solar lighting system and cash of GHc1,000.00 for the completion of the Menekokpe community health centre.
She however charged the people to remain law-abiding citizens, while she lobbied the government for projects and also raise their concerns in parliament as their representative.
Source: therepublicnewsonline.com / Felix Engsalige Nyaaba, Afram Plains, E/R