“On May 28, 2020, as the driver (name withheld) of the Ghana National Ambulance Service stationed at the Bongo District Hospital in the Upper East Region, I received a distress call at about 12 midnight from the Balungu community to pick up a pregnant woman to the District Hospital for delivery.
I hurriedly drove to the collapsed Bongo-Balungu Bridge, but I could not cross as a result of the rain that hit the area the previous night”.
The ambulance driver who continued the narration of his ordeal to the Ghana News Agency (GNA), stated that the only alternative available to him at that moment was to drive back to Bongo and use the Bongo-Soe-Namoo-Balungu road, which is more than three times longer than the Bongo-Balungu road.
The above scenario is just one among such numerous cases that have been occurring in the area due to the bad nature of the bridge. Most of the victims of this circumstance are pregnant women who are due for delivery as they find it difficult to access health facilities in the District and Regional capital.
To be more specific, this ritual phenomenon affects many vulnerable groups especially pregnant women and children from communities including Balungu, Lungu, Namoo, Nayorigo, Sambolgo, Kansoe, Abokobiisi, Sikabiisi, Goo, Kanga, Kadare, Tarongo, Gambrongo, Awaa, Kodorogo, Atanseka, Sirigu in the Kassena-Nankana West District and Yelwongo in Burkina Faso, compelling them to use alternative routes including Feo-Soe road or Vea-Gowrie road which are very long.
Checks by the GNA revealed that even the alternative road of Vea-Gowrie is often flooded during the rainy season by the spillage of the Vea Dam.
Effects on Health Service Delivery
In an interview with Mr Stephen Bordotsiah, the Bongo District Director of Ghana Health Services, he lamented the toll the collapsed bridge was having on the health service delivery in the District particularly referrals and emergencies.
“For instance, last year, during the rainy season it affected us a lot because we were doing mass polio vaccination and some of our staff had to be carried across the Balungu River by the community members. They carried their motorbikes across and came back to carry them with the vaccines they were going to use to vaccinate the children. It was very dangerous because they could have been washed away by the current of the flowing river and it affected the coverage,” he said.
The District Director indicated that apart from the fact that the situation was seriously affecting maternal and neonatal health, it also hampers their ability to respond to emergencies.
“A pregnant woman who may need referral to the hospital for further investigations may find it difficult getting across. Meanwhile, it is during the rainy season that we usually record higher numbers of clients because it is the time we have a lot of water borne diseases. Those we could have saved earlier either getting worst or even dying,” Mr Bordotsiah stressed.
A Health Worker at the Namoo Health Centre who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Bongo District Hospital was the main referral facility in the District, however, during rainy seasons they usually found it difficult referring cases to the hospital due to the collapsed bridge.
“Recently, a terrible accident occurred and the Ambulance Service arrived through Soe-Feo road. I realized that if I had to take the patient to the Bongo Hospital through the same way, it would be too long, so we rather went to the Regional Hospital in Bolgatanga through Zorko. Now that the rains are setting in it means that more of such incidents are going to happen if the bridge is not worked on,” he lamented.
These are typical examples to indicate that if radical measures are not taken to address the problem, Ghana as a country cannot make a headway in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals particularly goal three which talks about quality healthcare and wellbeing for all.
Impact on Education
Apart from the impact of the bridge on the health sector, investigations by GNA uncovered that the situation during rainy season usually increase students, pupils as well as teachers’ absenteeism thereby negatively affecting contact hours and effective academic work.
Mr Thomas Alukuke, Head teacher for Balungu-Nabiisi Primary School, told the GNA that whenever it rained or it was threatening to rain, teachers and pupils had to abandon classes and run home before the rain started.
It must be noted that the area that is cut off from the district capital has basic schools, three Day Second Cycle institutions and a University.
For the Country to attain the SDGs especially goal four, which emphasizes on quality education, the appropriate authorities need to act with urgency to rehabilitate the bridge.
Impact on Agriculture
The Bongo District is predominantly a farming community with more than 75 per cent of its population relying on agriculture for survival. Due to the bad nature of the bridge, farmers find it difficult to access their farmlands to practice their normal farming and transport their farm products across the bridge to their various homes or market centres to sell leading to post-harvest losses.
Furthermore, apart from its adverse effects on the implementation of the Planting for Food and Jobs programme, agriculture extension officers also find it difficult to travel across the bridge to offer extension services to farmers. This situation could weaken government’s efforts at attaining the SDGs, particularly goals one and two which lay more emphasis on no poverty and zero hunger respectively.
Mr Peter Ayamga Ayinbisa, the District Chief Executive told GNA that the Bongo-Balungu Bridge was one of the major challenges confronting the area and had cost the District dearly.
“The bridge has affected the District severely, I wish I could find another word to replace severe, because the severity of the effects cannot be measured. If a life is lost I do not know what can be used to replace it, if your goods, animals have been carried away and last year we saw animals being carried away, that is very severe,” the DCE lamented.
Mr Ayinbisa explained that apart from the situation affecting market women who travel on the road to transact businesses at various markets within the District and Bolgatanga and Yelwongo in Burkina Faso, it also affected the Assembly’s revenue mobilization.
According to the DCE, when he took over office, stringent measures were put in place to increase the Assembly’s revenue collection from GHC10,000.00 to GHC15,000.00 a month.
“We were getting around GHC15,000.00 per month when this bridge caved in and like I said, we depend heavily on the Namoo Border for a huge part of our revenue. So now we have to come back to around GHC6,000.00 to GHC8,000.00 per month and that amount cannot even meet recurrent expenditure,” the DCE added.
The DCE indicated that although all efforts have been made to get the problem fixed without any positive results, he would continue to pursue the Roads Ministry to come to the aid of the District.
Background to the Bongo-Balungu Bridge
The Bongo-Balungu Bridge sits on the eight kilometer stretch of road from Bongo, the district capital, to Namoo, Ghana’s border to neighbouring Burkina Faso and was constructed in 2003.
The major link road has been left by successive governments to deteriorate, causing accidents including loss of lives and properties.
Between 2014 and 2016, the edges of the bridge begun to wash away by erosion and in the early part of 2017, the bridge caved in and totally collapsed making it a death trap to its users especially anytime it rained.
The situation has compelled vehicle users travelling from Bolgatanga to Burkina Faso and vice versa to be using the Paga route instead of the Bongo road which is shorter.
Thus, residents and other opinion leaders in the District undertook several demonstrations and appealed to government to fix the road, particularly the bridge.
In July, 2018, President Akufo-Addo cut sod for the construction of the of the Bongo-Balungu-Namoo road including the Bongo-Balungu bridge and other bridges within the Bongo District. The contract was awarded to DAMIT Enterprise and the project was expected to be completed in 2019.
However, few months after the start of the project, works came to a standstill and the contractor abandoned site. Checks by the writer uncovered that for the whole of 2019 and at the time of writing this article, the contractor had not been to site and it was revealed that he had not been paid. Due to the heavy rains in 2018 and 2019, the river beneath the bridge had further widened and it would get worst as the rains set in.
Though the grading of the Namoo-Zorko, Gowrie-Vea, Bogrego-Soe roads by government is very much appreciated, failure to work on the Bongo-Balungu road particularly the bridge, would mar the good works and cause much suffering to the chiefs and people of the District, because it is a major part of their lives.
It must be noted that if the bridge is not worked on as soon as possible, it will scare away investors and derail the efforts of government in achieving the SDGs particularly goals one, two, three and four.
The Chiefs and people of the entire Bongo District are therefore appealing to the government to treat the ECOWAS road as a national asset and fix it with urgency to bring relief to the people especially the vulnerable.