More Than a Numbers Game: Ghana’s Progress on MDG 1
February 27, 2013
Children in Ghana watch soccer on TV during the 2010 World Cup (jasonelliotfinch/Flickr).

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are a set of eight human development goals with subsidiary targets and indicators adopted by the United Nations in 2000. MDG 1 is to “eradicate extreme hunger and poverty,” which translates into two quantitative, time-bound targets – to halve the proportion of people with an income of less than $1 a day and to halve the numbers of people who suffer from hunger by 2015.

In Ghana, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) estimates that the country "is largely on track in achieving the MDG 1”. World Bank figures show that overall poverty rate has declined substantially over the past two decades.

Poverty has reduced from over 50 percent in 1992 to 28.5 percent in 2006, indicating that the poverty target could be achieved well ahead of time. Similarly, the proportion of people living below the extreme poverty line declined from 36 percent to 18 percent over the same period. On child malnutrition, moreover the UNDP provides statistics that show the incidence of wasting has declined from 11 percent in 1993 to 5 percent in 2008, while the occurrence of underweight children has declined from about 31 percent in 1988 to 14 percent in 2008.

With only two years before the MDG 2015 deadline, the above results mean that we have reasons to celebrate.

But in Ghana's three northern regions, especially the Lawra district where I conducted research on my Africa Initiative grant, hunger is still rife. My preliminary findings show that nearly half of the population in the north is food insecure.

But in Ghana's three northern regions, especially the Lawra district where I conducted research on my Africa Initiative grant, hunger is still rife. My preliminary findings show that nearly half of the population in the north is food insecure.

These results confirm a recent World Food Program assessment in northern Ghana showing that "the prevalence of malnutrition among children under five years and women of reproductive age is still high. In fact, 22 percent of children are stunted or too short for their age, seven percent of children are wasted or to thin for their height. One in nine children die before reaching age five and maternal mortality rates were found to have increased from 197 to 224 per 100,000 live births." 

A key theme emerging from my expert interviews suggests that policy makers tend to tout the aggregate "success story" and become preoccupied with hitting statistical targets rather than improving the overall welfare of all constituents. Simon Maxwell of UK's Overseas Development Institute has highlighted the risks when policy-makers focus too much on targets, suggesting that complex processes can be over-simplified and priorities skewed when policies aim solely at targets.

He observes that the use of targets can "encourage a reductionist approach to complex problems, privilege quantitative indicators at the expense of qualitative ones, distort resource allocation, and undermine professional motivation and responsibility." As the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, has admonished, positive results on the MDGs "represent a tremendous reduction in human suffering…[b]ut, they are not a reason to relax."

Hanson Nyantakyi-Frimpong is a Ph.D. candidate in geography and international development at the University of Western Ontario. His research interests focus on development geography and human-environment interactions, rural livelihood security, global environmental and economic change and tropical agricultural systems.

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