The weather pattern in the northern parts of Ghana is characterized by low rainfalls and prolonged periods of drought.
For this reason, farmers in the upper east region, unlike their counterparts in the south, cannot engage in all-year-round cultivation of crops. They also lose many of their livestock because the animals die of thirst in the dry seasons.
The end result of this is the migration of the youth to the southern parts, in search of almost non-existent greener pastures.
To help mitigate this problem, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, as flagbearer of the New Patriotic Party in 2016, made a campaign promise to construct dams in every village in the Northern part of the country.
“You have been hearing me talking about “One District, One factory”. As far as this part of the world is concerned, I even want to go further and talk about 1 Village 1 Dam, to make sure that in every village, we have a functioning dam to support agriculture”
Nana Akufo-Addo, announced the “1 Village, 1 Dam” promise before the Bolgatanga traditional council. He was on a campaign tour of the Upper East Region, accompanied by his running mate Dr. Mahamadu Bawumia.
This campaign promised instantly became the talk across the country because it touched on a very important sector of the economy – Agriculture.
The New Patriotic Party eventually won the 2016 general elections and Akufo-Addo became the President of Ghana.
Perhaps, 1 Village, 1 Dam was not the only promise that resonated with the Ghanaian people but it certainly was one promise that gave farmers in northern Ghana some hope.
Paramount Chief of the Sekote Traditional Area, Naba Sigri Bewong recounts how on that day, Nana Akufo-Addo received his request for a dam in his area.
“He and the Vice President came to my palace and when they heard that, for 8 months this place became dry, no water, they felt sad and said they will do something about it”, he said.
Naba Bewong who confirmed that some dams have been constructed in his area in line with the promise, however, cannot tell whether or not, the dams can contain water for all year round farming.
Now in the third year of this government, not much is seen of the well-touted “1 Village, 1 Dam” policy in the Upper East Region.
The Upper East Region was allocated with 140 of the dams promised but only 40 are said to have been constructed so far, in all the 15 Municipalities and Districts of the region.
The 1 Village 1 Dam project first started in the Bongo District with a promise to ensure value for money.
Douglas Twum, the Engineer of the Construction Company awarded the contract, the Abooh 1 Company, at the time, assured the DCE and people of Bongo that they will ensure that good quality of work was done.
“When we went through the procurement process, we did not come victorious just because we have a company but we have the experience in building dams that is why we were able to go through”, he boasted.
The Bongo district was allocated 10 dams. But just 4 dams are at various stages of completion.
According to residents of the Bongo district, the construction of each of these dams lasted less than a week, raising questions as to whether any serious work was done on these dams.
“The way things are going, very soon it will silt up. So whatever the purpose for which it was constructed, I am not too sure.” Joseph Atisiba, Assembly member of Ayopia, stated.
A visit to Zuarungu Gono in the Bolgatanga East District was met with lamentations from residents, regarding the quality of the dam constructed there.
What is supposed to be a dam is just a sizeable water body with stone-bound edges, gradually eroding away.
Its depth is about 6 feet. To the far end of this dam is a fragile-looking embankment.
As shallow as the dam looks, a spillway has been created at one end. The very nature of this dam for the residents of Gono, makes it a death trap.
Similar sentiments were raised at Dachio, still in the Bolga East District. The dam there looks like 2-acres of cleared farmland surrounded by trees. The embankment has no stones to make it stronger. It looks weak and could break away in the event of a heavy rain.
The Chief of Dachio, Naba Akaliga II said he was optimistic that a new dam in his area will promote dry season farming but he was disappointed after seeing what was constructed as a dam.
Naba Akaliga II in an angry tone, described their newly constructed dam as similar to a football field.
“It’s only for children to be playing football but not a dam. It is a piece of Football Park being constructed. Because, the depth of the dam is not known, so in fact it is not a dam”, he quipped.
At Kajelo in the Kassena-Nankana West District, the embankment to the dam had been washed away at the time of my visit. The Assembly member for the area, Hilary Aniakwo lamented that the dam was shoddily constructed.
“You can see that there is shoddy work here. The compression of the dam is like they have just poured sand there and gone away. So the rain has exposed the shoddy work of the contractor”, Aniakwo lamented.
Apart from the poor quality of the dams, the contractors seem to have failed to put safety measures around them, to protect residents.
Residents of Bongo and Bolgatanga say the dams are death traps because 3 lives each have been lost in the two areas.
“One day, somewhere, around 3pm, I was in town when I received a call that 3 children, the ages were around 9, 10 and 11, got drowned in a newly constructed dam under the 1 Village 1 Dam project”, Assembly member for Bolga Soe, Richard Abagna stated.
The District Chief Executive for Bongo, Peter Ayinbisa says the drowning of residents in the newly constructed dams were due to construction defects which were yet to be corrected.
“I think in Bongo we have recorded 3 deaths or so. Every dam when you are constructing, you must make provision for a gentle gradient slops but in this case the contractor did not make that provision”, Mr. Ayinbisa told A1 news.
Upper East Regional Minister, Paulina Patience Abayage expressed regrets about the deaths recorded at the 1 Village 1 Dam project dams and vowed not to sign contract certificates for the dams that have defects.
“Some of them have been defective. Two of them have come to my attention so far; one in Kajelo in the Kassena-Nankana West District and one in Soe in the Bolga Municipality. The only thing I can assure you as the regional minister, is that, I sitting here will ensure there is value for money. So I have told the consultant that from now, I am putting on hold the signing of payment certificates”
The regional minister touted the NPP campaign promise as an achievement, indicating that the dams constructed will serve the purpose of all year round farming.
But President of the Millar Institute for Transdisciplinary and Development Studies, Professor David Millar who is also an agriculturalist and development consultant, thinks that the government has failed in the implementation of the 1 village, 1 dam campaign promise.
“And a test of a dam, give them three years, most of them will dry out if they are not well-designed. That is why I say for the whole idea, I will give them 20%, and the 80% is all failure.”
Professor Millar who was also a member of the National Development Planning Commission which once designed the 40-year development plan, lauded the idea of dams in Northern Ghana for all year round farming but said the implementation of the policy has so far, been poor.
“It is all part of the blame that we have for manifestos. If you want to do a plan based on manifesto, which is four years, and one year you are using it to learn on the job, the fourth year they are preparing for elections again, it means they are trying to implement many things in two years and it is not possible. Next year, they are going to be running around digging holes everywhere” he said.
The implementation of the 1 Village 1 Dam policy in the Upper East Region was meant to provide sources of water, mainly for farming and for animals to drink.
Unfortunately, it appears that the policy which could be providing jobs to many unemployed youth, is becoming a fiasco in the region.
On paper, 40 out of the 140 dams promised the region have been constructed. But even then, the work done on these dams can only be described as shoddy.
It remains to be seen though, whether the government will inspect the dams constructed so far and order for proper work to be done and perhaps, turn things around and deliver on the 1 Village 1 Dam campaign promise before its current tenure of office runs out.
AUDIO: Listen to the documentary below
This feature is written by Joshua Asaah, A1 Radio