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Ghana: Making Cities ‘Smarter’ Through the Use of ICT

Using Smartphones to Bring Better Services to Citizens in Ghana

Erratic and sporadic water supply, clogged drains, sickened children and unhealthy lives – these are the everyday challenges Janet Adu faces, living in Turlako, a suburb of Accra.  Her story is captured in this video and is a vivid reminder that poor sanitation in Ghana accounts for 70 percent of out-patient attendance and 25% of under-five mortality for children. With Ghana’s cities growing at an unprecedented 3.2 percent annually, living conditions for the urban poor like Janet Adu are deteriorating rapidly.

In Accra, Ghana’s capital, over 50% of water provided is lost through leakage and pilferage. A key contributor to the situation is weak monitoring and evaluating capability at the municipal level, as a result of which pressing issues, such as water leakages and garbage accumulation, are often not reported and left unchecked. In Ghana, most urban services, such as solid waste and sanitation management, are primarily in the hands of local governments, who rely on private vendors to deliver these services. And in the area of waste management and sanitation, there is no mechanism in place to monitor the performance of these private vendors.

Enter Taarifa: Engaging citizens and communities

ICT-based platforms can encourage collective action and put pressure on local governments and service providers to respond to citizens’ problems.  In Ghana, the World Bank has recently helped implement an ICT platform called “Taarifa” to help citizens and local governments monitor waste disposal. Taarifa (which means “headline” in Swahili) is a smartphone-based app that enables community-based reporting and monitoring of service delivery. Designed by an open source community, the platform is an online tool for information collection, visualization and interactive mapping which allows citizens to document and report issues and service delivery gaps via SMS, online feedback forms, email or Twitter.

Officially launched as ‘The Ghana Districts Monitor’, the Taarifa platform was implemented to enable civil society to monitor waste collection services in the city on behalf of the urban poor, and report problems to the concerned authorities. In the first phase of the pilot project, smartphones were distributed to four CSOs (already engaged with local governments on issues related to water & sanitation, waste management, youth education, and slum redevelopment) and people were trained to use the app, record data and fill-out and send their reports in real time.

Taarifa is designed to be a sustainable and powerful social accountability tool. For example, the app automatically captures GPS coordinates, works in the absence of any mobile internet signal (the information gets stored in the phone memory and is automatically sent when the phone connects with Wi-Fi or catches a signal), and the platform also integrates with regular SMS. At the operational level, CSOs were encouraged to monitor on a contract basis with service providers or other agencies. The money earned from these contracts allows them to buy more phones, train more personnel, and fuel-up their vehicles. As of this writing, such contracts have already been signed and citizen reporting is alive and well in the municipalities of the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area (GAMA).

The road ahead is still long and more work remains. Faced with tight budgets, municipalities are struggling to tackle the plethora of issues brought to their attention by the newly-empowered citizens. A stronger coordination mechanism is needed to ensure that complaints logged are followed by quick action. But as urban populations rise and service delivery is unable to keep up, ICT platforms such as Taarifa will help local governments to become better service providers and take more proactive approaches in the fight against poor sanitation in Ghana and make cities more livable for everyone, including Janet Adu. 

Comments

Submitted by Anonymous on
Actually this a good initiative, it will go a long way for the government to evaluate how far its strategy put in place is working. My worry now is how this good work could spread to other African countries. I am a Cameroonian and I will be very happy to have it work in my country. I am available where there is a need for my intervention. Thank you. Emmanuel

Submitted by Gaurav on
Hi Emmanuel, Thanks for your note of appreciation. We are working hard to ensure that the tool gets successfully harnessed in Ghana. Once this is achieved, it could serve as a model of replication for many other countries, including Cameroon. Fingers Crossed! Best Regards, Gaurav Relhan

"Taarifa" is a wonderful tool and I believe it will really put the waste collectors on their toes. However, how many people or youth in Accra will have the opportunity to use this initiative to its fullest potential? It can also get into the hands of the wrong people who will have "Taarifa" but will not border to use it. It's a great initiative but as you rightly mentioned in the article, alot of work needs to be done with respect to youth education, cleanups and effecting the 'political will' to cause a massive change in the country. Some of us who are passionate about the environment don't get access to these, so then we don't really feel the significance of such great efforts in tackling this menace. I will be glad to get one "Taarifa", use it to effect the change we want to see in our motherland and let the people in my circle of influence appreciate this initiative. Thank you. Patrick Adjei Nketia www.cleanghanafoundation.org

Submitted by Gaurav on
Dear Patrick, Thanks for your note of appreciation, we really hope that this ICT initiative bears fruit in Ghana. In response to your concerns, I wanted to convey that the tool is made available to CSO representatives, who are also provided with comprehensive training, such that they can apply it effectively on behalf of the poor. A support person, based locally, has been made available to resolve any technical issues and to also assist in driving the uptake of the ICT platform. The app works only on Android smartphones. To this end, a link is provided directly to only trusted CSO representatives through which they can download the App. This way, a measure of control is exerted on who has access (to prevent misuse). In any case, reports submitted from the smartphone undergo a QC process before getting posted on the web, so spurious reports get eliminated. Hope this addresses your queries. Stay tuned for further updates! Best Regards, Gaurav Relhan

Submitted by Anonymous on
The money could be better spent in solving the sanitation problems rather than building systems to report them. Poor sanitation is visible all over the place and it is incredible to think that goverment officials can't see this and need to be told. Given that money is in short supply, this is ineffective prioritisation. Pay people to clean up instead of paying them to report, buy bins and locate them strategically, train the community to dispose of waste responsibility, etc.

Submitted by BlackC on

Are there any updates to how this Taarifa accountability tool is doing? I've been to the Ghana Districts Monitor page and there doesn't seem to be a lot of reports.
I'm glad I read this article because I was looking all over the web in order to figure out how to download it to my iPhone, lol.

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