Rethinking Urban Poverty and Inequality in Post COVID-19: Some Pointers for Policy Consideration in Ghana

The challenges that faced the implementation of the partial lockdown in the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area (GAMA) and the Greater Kumasi Metropolitan Area (GKMA) as part of measures to curb the spread of the novel COVID-19 virus have revealed how poverty and inequality in urban areas can undermine a well-intended policy. Consequently, there is the need for Ghana to rethink poverty and inequality in new ways and respond more effectively with own resources (see GARDA World, 2020). As the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed, relying on donor support for poverty reduction is not sustainable.

A Business Law Firm, Addleshaw Goddard LLP (2020), could not have put it in a better way by noting that, “for Ghana, the harsh reality reported within the United Kingdom, the European Union’s disparate and tardy response to its own Spain and Italy, and the political soap opera that unfolded in the United States of America between federal and state governments, further highlighted the need for adequate self-sufficiency, at least to the extent of being able to protect the … socio-economic welfare of the population.”

Many governments implemented a total lockdown as immediate solution to the control of the COVID-19 pandemic. Countries such as India used the lockdown to buy crucial time to do extensive contact tracing, ramp up testing and most crucially, prepare health system, increasing its healthcare infrastructure and preventing it from being overwhelmed, as it happened in Italy, the United States and Spain (Golechha, 2020: 1). In Ghana, the information Minister explained that the partial lockdown was needed to enable the government to provide assistance to health facilities to identify, contact trace and isolate cases for effective management (The Guardian, 2020).

The lockdown as implemented by many countries required limited movement, home-stay and social distancing. In Ghana, the President imposed a partial lockdown on the 28th of March 2020 to take effect on 30 of March 2020 for two weeks. As mentioned earlier, this was imposed on the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area and the Greater Kumasi Metropolitan Area. Residents in these areas were to stay at home as much as possible. The circumstances under which they could go out including looking for food and water, medicine, going to the bank and the use of public toilets and public bathrooms.

In addition, inter-city travels for private and commercial purposes were suspended. All intra-city travel vehicles were made to reduce the number of passengers to observe social distancing. During the lockdown, the government subsidized halved electricity costs for lifeline users and absorbed water bills for three months and also distributed food supplies to households in poor and vulnerable neighbourhoods to ease the effects of the lockdown (see Voice of America, 2020; International Growth Center, 2020).

Although the lockdown is supported by many countries, governments and World Health Organisation (WHO) as an effective strategy for containing the spread of infections, there were many challenges that came with its implementation. In India for example, the social distancing is said to be very difficult for many households, especially in slum areas; and for the daily-wage earner, he/she has to earn daily money to keep family alive. A long-time lockdown could lead to psychosocial difficulties for vulnerable population and consequently lead to stress, anxiety, frustration, boredom and depression and even suicidal idea and attempts.

In Ghana, there is evidence to show that the distribution of food in order for people, especially low income people, to stay at home cannot be said to have been very successful as many of the intended beneficiaries claimed to have been left out. Consequently, many of them could not stay at home. The argument was that they are “daily-income-earners” or what is commonly called “by-day-earners” therefore they need to go out daily in order to make ends meet as in the case of India and other poor countries. According to The Guardian (2020) millions of people living on the edge, working in Ghana’s largely informal economy, each day of the lockdown deepened their worries.

There is anecdotal evidence to support the view that the lockdown made life extremely difficult for the urban poor (International Growth Center, 2020). This claim is justified from the evidence that over 60% workers are in the informal sector. According to the Ghana Living Standards Survey 4 (GLSS IV) and the Ghana Shared Growth and Development Agenda (GSGDA) II, 2014-2017 cited in Anuwa-Amarh (2015: 13), available statistics show that informal sector’s share of total employment increased from 80.5% in 1987/88 to 88.6% in 2005/2006. The private informal sector is estimated to employ about 86% of the economically active persons. Therefore the informal sector is very important as this is the sector that hosts many low-income “by-day” earners.

Worst of all, observing social distancing as one of the protocols, was not effectively complied with by the many informal sector workers especially market women across many markets in the country. The steps that were taken to shut down some markets rather worsened the plight of many “by-day” workers many of whom are women household heads. The main reason has to do with the nature of their work. There is also evidence that some passengers ignored the social distancing protocols to be observed by private transport operators especially intra-city mini buses commonly called “trotro” because of limited supply of “trotro” during rush hours (myJoyOnline, 2020; GhanaWeb, 2020; Bonful et al., 2020).

These challenges have therefore revealed some pointers that justify rethinking of urban poverty and inequality as critical development issue and how this might be addressed. To effectively address this, there is the need to understand how these issues affected the implementation and enforcement of the COVID-19 protocols on social distancing and staying-athome. Unpacking the dynamics should help to approach poverty issues in more innovative ways. In order to understand the context of this argument, a review of conventional thinking about poverty will be useful.

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Dr. Ronald Adamtey is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Planning of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi . He is the Director of the Undergraduate Planning Programmes. He is a professional Planner and a Member of the Ghana Institute of Planners (GIP). He holds a Ph.D. degree in Governance and Public Policy from the University of Sussex, United Kingdom, and an M.Phil. Degree in Community Development and a B.Sc. degree in Development Planning all from the KNUST. He was a Commonwealth Scholar and also won the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) scholarship for studies into community development.

He has extensive research and consultancy experience in wide areas of human settlements growth and management. He was a member of theteam at the KNUST that collaborated with their counterparts from Royal Danish Academic of Fine Arts, Denmark, which researched into Community Initiatives and Democratization of Planning practice in Ghana.
A five-year study sponsored by DANIDA which sought to explore how best to harness the initiatives of poor people and channel these into productive efforts in complementing central and local government initiatives towards managing the growth of settlements. He was one of researchers at the Centre for Policy Research and Social Engineering (CEPRESE) based at the University of Ghana, Legon.

A center which collaborated with the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) at the University of Sussex in United Kingdom, Centre for Future State and conducted a five-year research into the co-production of public services for poverty reduction. He was also a Team Member ofEdburgh Consultants (International Consultancy Firm) which prepared a Training Strategy for the Government of Ghana and the European Union to be used to train the staff of the District Assemblies in the Local Government Sector.

His research interests are the political economy of land use and human settlements planning, decentralization and local governance, rural health planning, and small-scale mining with emphasis on the micro-politics and decision making and their effects on the environment.

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Gifty Obeng is a monitoring and evaluation specialist with over 19 years’ experience in various fields of work. With an international training background (Masters level) in sustainable environmental practices, Gifty specialises in designing programmes and projects that protect the environment and thus limit the negative environmental footprint of human activities. She has been at the forefront of advising agencies like the B-Bovid (agro-processing social enterprise) on sustainable agricultural practices and climate change adaptative measures for farming communities. Gifty’s commitment to the use of best planning practices in all initiatives she has supported stems from her training as a development planning professional at undergraduate level (see CV). A trained school teacher with more than 10 years’ experience, Gifty is also skilled in training and mobilising stakeholders with various needs, and in designing content to suit various categories of clients. Gifty currently occupies the position of Programmes, Monitoring and Evaluations Manager at the Good Governance Africa Centre, where she uses her strong professional training background in business administration (Big Data), Quick Books and ComCare to steer programmes and activities.

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Edward is a development planning professional with over 10 years working experience in development cooperation, research and training. For six years, Edward worked as a technical development advisor working at all levels of the decentralised system in Ghana. At the local level, he has been directly involved in community mobilisations and engagements to document the needs of the people mostly in deprived districts. These engagements were further used to enrich national policy discourse and in the formulation of policies and programmes. Edward also coordinated interventions with the then 10 Regional Coordinating Councils (RCC) to support selected districts in the implementation of their development programmes. Over the last five years Edward has been engaged in trainings and research, working both in the private and non-governmental sectors. With a strong planning background both at the masters’ and undergraduate levels, Edward is a passionate advocate of inclusive planning and decision making, particularly on matters that could reduce poverty amongst marginalised segments of society. Edward also holds a practitioner certificate in organisational and systems development; a background that positively influences his engagement with stakeholders at all levels of society. Currently, Edward occupies the position of Senior Research Officer at the Good Governance Africa – West Africa Centre (see CV).