A physically-challenged woman
A physically-challenged woman

Alhassan Abugri is a 40-year-old man with visual impairment in Bawku in the Upper East Region.

On a fateful day in 2023, Mr Abugri had visited a friend at one of the suburbs, with the support of his son, and was returning home when he was caught up in gunfire in a renewed chieftaincy clash.

While everybody was running helter-skelter for their lives, he said he was left stranded and had to leave his fate into the hands of God.

According to him, it took the timely intervention of some security operatives, who rescued and escorted him to his house.

Narrating his ordeal to the Daily Graphic, he lamented: “I have lost my menial business I was doing to take care of my wife and six children due to the recurring conflict, and now things have become very hard for me and I can’t even feed my family.”

Impaired

This is the harrowing experience of a visually impaired person who has been robbed of the gift of sight and his world is already veiled in the shadows.

Now, just like him, picture being caught in a crossfire in the busy streets of a conflict-ridden town with such conditions. Obviously, such a harrowing experience will be traumatising and will leave deep scars in your mind forever.

However, that is what persons with disabilities (PWDs) have had to contend with during conflicts and other situations that require that people escape from the scene.

Just like Mr Abugri, Haruna Samira, a 45-year-old physically challenged woman, also had her world turned upside down by the protracted chieftaincy conflict in Bawku.

She said at the peak of the disturbance last year, she had to close down her small shop which she was depending on for her livelihood, to seek refuge in the village.

“When the town became very hot, I had to run to my village for safety. Though it is a bit calm now and I have returned to the town, I am very scared to open the shop because it is located at one of the hotspots,” she said.

Ms Haruna indicated that now the only way of survival for her is relying on the benevolence of people.

Situation

Mr Abugri and Ms Samira are part of a number of PWDs in the Bawku Municipality who are bearing the brunt of the conflict.

There has been a recurring conflict in the Bawku township for the past decades, resulting in the death of many people and the destruction of property running into millions of Ghana cedis.

The once bustling town has now been deserted, with many institutions closed down, while a number of people have fled the town for safety.

While the headlines continue to scream about violence and displacement, the community that is bearing the brunt of this strife in silence is the PWDs.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that one billion people globally live with a disability, eight in 10 of whom are in developing countries.

In Ghana, PWDs constitute about eight per cent of the total population, translating to about 2,098,138, according to the 2021 Population and Housing Census (PHC).

Specifically, there are about 300 PWDs, comprising the hearing impaired, visually impaired and physically challenged, in the Bawku Municipality, according to the Municipal Secretariat of the PWDs.

They contribute in diverse ways towards the development of the municipality and the nation at large.

However, they are the most and first to be harmed in armed conflicts as highlighted by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

Worsening conditions

The Bawku Municipal Vice Chairperson of the PWDs, Issah Ayishetu, in an interview with the Daily Graphic, indicated that two of her members have sustained gunshot wounds while a number of them have lost their source of livelihoods to the conflict.

Aside from that, she said some of them have been traumatised and depressed as a result of the conflict, worsening their conditions.

“Most of our members have had their businesses collapsed while those who used to go round and beg for alms for survival too can no longer go out to do so due to the persistent attacks.

“Also, we used to have our meetings every two weeks to deliberate on our welfare but now, we are unable to do so,” she lamented.

Ms Ayishetu pointed out that PWDs are often left behind in all conversations around the conflict, despite their vulnerability, saying: “It appears nobody remembers us, especially when there is an attack. We are always treated like those who are fit.”

She, therefore, called on authorities to pay special attention to PWDs in the area to ensure their safety and improve their living conditions.

Inequalities 

Undoubtedly, armed conflict poses severe challenges and risks for persons with pre-existing impairments, thus exacerbating their conditions.

For instance, accessing basic services like water, sanitation, food, shelter or health care, benefiting from humanitarian relief efforts and fleeing to safety from the dangers of military operations are often more complex and riskier for persons with disabilities.

To the Executive Director of SWIDA-Ghana, Alimatu Sagito, the situation could worsen the inequality situation among the vulnerable persons, stressing, “The people are already vulnerable and the conflict has come to compound their situation. So you can imagine what they are going through.”

Beyond that, she said “the emotional trauma alone will affect their mental health. So we need to really turn our attention to them.”


This reporter interacting with Alimatu Sagito, Executive Director of SWIDA Ghana

Neglected

In 2012, the Parliament of Ghana ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) to affirm its commitment to promote the full realisation of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all PWDs without discrimination of any kind based on disability.

Despite that, they are mostly left behind in critical national conversations about human rights issues.

For instance, the PWDs in Bawku have been left out of the mediation processes of the conflict.

The Bawku Municipal Vice President of the PWDs said “It is very unfortunate that we have been left out in the mediation process when we are the worst affected.”

She said some of their members were very knowledgeable, and influential and had all it took to contribute to the resolution of the disturbances.

Terrorists threat 

A Security and Conflict Resolution Expert, Rev. Fr Dr Clement Aapengnuo, intimated that extremists could leverage the situation of the PWDs and radicalise them because nobody associated them with violence.

“In the case of even violent extremism, many of them are living with grief. They feel how much we neglect and discriminate against them and how they are not considered to be part of society.

“So, these are people who can easily be radicalised and it can be very dangerous because nobody associates them with violence,” he said.

He explained that some of them could be very angry about how society is unjust to them and could be a target for recruitment and radicalisation by extremist groups, adding: “So imagine if the military or the police are conducting a search and they come across a PWD. It won’t even cross their mind that the person can cause harm, so we neglect them at our own peril.”

Fr Aapengnuo said although PWDs were worst affected by conflict and violent attacks in Bawku and many parts of the country, he was not aware of any scientific research that had been conducted so far to assess the impact of the situation on them.


Issah Ayishetu, Bawku Municipal Vice Chairperson of the PWDs in her shop

Support 

For persons like Alhassan Abugri, Haruna Samira and many other PWDs in Bawku, the daily battle extends beyond physical disability.

The persistent discrimination and neglect have worsened their plight, as authorities often overlook their unique needs, leaving them to fend for themselves in the midst of the raging disturbance.

Fr Aapengnuo advocated the initiation of deliberate interventions targeted at enhancing the well-being and safety of the vulnerable group.

“We need to also build their capacity with skills to make them more productive. There are a lot of training and workshops always but we don’t target them. Very often, they will invite people and they will just add two or more people with disability, which is very bad,” he noted.

Achieving SDG/Way forward

The Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 10 advocates the reduction of inequality within and among countries by empowering and promoting the social, economic and political inclusion of all, including persons with disabilities.

Similarly, Goal 16 seeks to promote peaceful and inclusive societies, providing access to justice for all and building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

However, achieving these goals by 2030 appears to be bleak with the glaring state of exclusion, neglect and deprivation of PWDs in Bawku and many parts of the country.

As the unending chieftaincy conflict continues to wreak havoc in the Bawku township, there is the need to prioritise safety and protect the rights of PWDs who are already vulnerable and are bearing the brunt of the conflict.

Also, deliberate efforts must be made to address their needs while providing them with sustainable livelihood support to improve their living conditions.

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