The observed trends in the demographic statistics of Ghana show that the country is becoming increasingly urbanized. The statistical definition of an urban centre in Ghana is any settlement with a population of 5,000 or more. It is estimated that if the current trend of urbanization continues, about 50% of the Ghanaian population will be living in the urban areas by 2020. The trend is not only rapid, it is alarming as well.
The statistical trend is that in 1960, only 23% of the Ghanaian population was urban, this has increased to 43.9% in the year 2000. Regions such as Greater Accra and Ashanti have urban populations above the national average, ie, 87.4% and 53.2% respectively. Even though the other regions have percentages below the national average, they have shown tremendous urban growth between the two periods. For example Volta, Brong Ahafo and Northern regions have increased their urban population beyond 100% and for Upper East and Upper West, the urban population has increased beyond 350% over the same period.
Let us recount some implications of the observed trends. The urban centers are first and foremost poorly managed in terms of zoning for development. There is no common zoning in these cities by which development can be planned strategically. In Tamale for example, the Ministry of Education has divided the city into twenty -two circuits for its operational purposes; the Ministry of Agric has the city zoned into four for its effective operation, with GWSC and the Electricity Corporation each consider the whole of Tamale as one district including Savelugu Nanton and Tolon Kumbungu Districts which receive their services. Administratively, the city is divided into three sub-metros, North, Central and South.
Tamale is not alone in this saga. In Kumasi, apart from repeating what Tamale has, Ministry of Health has divided the city into 5 health sub-metros (Bantama, Asokwa, Manhyia North, Manhyia South and Subin) while the city authority itself has divided it into 10 sub-metros. This is replicated in all the urban centers.
The problem is not necessarily the divisions, but that the boundaries of these zones/division/circuits are not co-terminus with each other. This presents a serious developmental problem. As it is, planning can only be done on service by service basis and not strategically. For example you cannot compare development between Asawase and Suame in Kumasi or between localities such as Gumani and Sabon-Gida in Tamale because the educational circuits in those areas do not coincide with the agricultural zones. By this approach, an area with more population could have more schools and less water, while another place could have more water and fewer schools because you cannot look at one geographical area holistically against the other.
The urban centers have real shortage of facilities. Based on a recent study in Kumasi and Tamale, Tamale has a deficit of 20,140 toilets and 11% of the population in Kumasi has no access to a public or private toilet facility. The irony is that the Revised Environmental Sanitation Policy, 2009 restricts the construction of public toilets to transient population ie at the lorry parks, markets, public assembly grounds, etc. Is it any wonder then that black polythene bags filled with 'you-know-what' are found increasingly in the urban centers?
Urban development, urban sprawl, call it what, is out of control. Buildings, let alone kiosks, come up anywhere in the city. This behavior attracts demolition exercises every now and then and we have not seen the last one yet. The problem is not only where the structure is erected, but the type of structure leaves much to be desired for a place called an urban center. In places affectionately called slums, the quality and safety of live is worse off than you could find even in the rural areas.
In all these centers, there are well prepared master plans to guide development but the Assemblies are disabled in implementing them because there is not enough building inspectors to go round to inspect construction works to ensure that they are following the dimensions of the approved plans. For example while the whole of AMA has only twenty one Building Inspectors and Kumasi has twenty three, it is no wonder that Koforidua and Tamale have only one each.
Metropolitan areas such as Kumasi, Accra, Sekondi-Takoradi by their growth presents definitional problems. For example if you are thinking in terms of development, one is confronted with the definition of these cities. The question has been "do you mean the administrative area or geographical area?" In Accra, you cannot plan without thinking of the effect of Nsawam, Aburi or Kasoa which are in different regions altogether neither can you exclude Lejekuku Krowor, Tema, Ashaiman or Adenta from any serious plans even though they are all in different administrative areas.
Neither Kumasi nor tamale can be spared from the definitional problem. You cannot plan for Kumasi and ignore Ejisu or Abuakwa nor do you plan for Tamale and refuse to consider Savelugu-Nanton and Tolon Kumbungu.
Let me touch on this problem also. It is urban agriculture. All lands have been zoned out for residential purposes. For example in Tamale, only 10% of the arable land in the metropolis is left for farming for this and the next generations. In Accra, I understand there is no land left for such an activity as urban agriculture. I have learnt recently that the famous Afariwaa Farms and others have now become estate developers. The practice of urban agriculture is the most unhygienic if you consider the sources of water used and the patches of land on which it is practiced. Most of the vegetable farms are just by the road sides or open spaces near public places. The air quality for the plants is seriously polluted by all kinds of passer-bys.
Let us take this for the last, urban poverty. Rural poverty is taken for granted, because the entire area is uniform in its appearance and character, they are all poor. Urban poverty is stark naked, you cannot take your eyes off it and at the same time, you do not like to look further. The extremes are too contrasting. In Accra, places like Nima share walls with Kanda Estates and it is not too far from the Airport Residential area and Ashaiman is separated from Tema by a flyover. In Kumasi, Dakodwom is separated from Nhyiaeso by a road and Aboabo and Dechemso are on the opposite sides of the River Dikyem.
Do we have these problems of urbanization only here in Ghana? May be not. In several urban cities in many other countries, we share with them the problem of congestion, noise, pollution, traffic jams at certain periods in the day and even flooding. But what we do not share with them are efficient transport systems, effective land use zoning, covered and concrete drains, well planned cities with defined zones, properly engineered land fill sites, name them. They are cities where the 'system' works.
I have gone to this length to recount all the above not because it is a new thing or as though I were the only person who knows about them. No. What I want to bring to the fore is that who is in charge of the urban areas in Ghana or is there anybody in charge at all? If there is somebody in charge, why cannot we have controlled development, why cannot we have co-terminus zoning to aid proper and strategic planning, why cannot we have properly planned urban agriculture, why cannot we have enough building inspectors for our cities, why are we all watching until the urban areas become more deteriorated even beyond the rural areas? I am worried.
It may be argued that the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development (MLGRD) is an all embracing institution for the development of the country including the urban areas as well. This may be true but from the analysis above, there is enough evidence to suggest that the urban area is not receiving sufficient and serious attention it deserves.