There are a couple of things about Accra that the casual observer will note and that the average pupil is taught about the typography of Ghana’s capital city:
- Accra is situated in a coastal plain
- The city is 91 meters elevation above the sea level
- Accra – and other coastal villages and towns – are vulnerable to sea level rise brought on by climate change
- Accra sits in a watershed area
With rampant and disorganized urbanization on the rise, these and other factors make Accra and its environs the perfect candidates for flooding. The soil in the coastal plains is primarily made up of red clay. Loamy soil is found to the north in the temperate zones (Ashanti Region), while there is more sand and clay in in the arid North. Each of these zones requires a specialized network of specific materials to best suit soil and typography types. No one in Ghana’s government has seen to the sewage and drainage needs of the cities and towns that dot the country since Kwame Nkrumah’s overthrow in 1966. Tema – the ONLY planned city in the entire nation – remains a testament to Osagyefo’s vision and penchant for foresight. Unlike Accra, Tema does not experience flooding when seasonal rains fall twice a year.
The reasons for Accra’s epic failure are numerous and manifold. Since 1966, the country once (and still) ruled from the capital was mired in a series of coup d’états and counter coups. For 30 years, one military dictator after another sought to fatten himself and his cronies on the fat of the land and the suffering of the people. Money meant for development and public works went straight into private Swiss bank accounts. Instead of focusing on planning for the future, Ghana’s leadership was fixated on “strong man” politics and showing opponents where the power lies. Meanwhile, the metropolis continued to grow, both in terms of population and private infrastructure, but there were never any funds dedicated to expanding the municipal utility grids, an epidemic the continues today. There are families in Haatso, Adenta and Kasoa who have never enjoyed a shower or washed a dish with water provided by the city. They rely on boreholes and/or water trucked in to fill PolyTanks on their premises. This is not how a modern city is meant to operate. These are the fruits of corruption.
On the eve of June 4th, 88 mm of rain fell on the capital city. Buildings not built to code collapsed. A Goil filling station leaking fuel exploded, killing 73 people on the spot. Some estimates say 100. All over the city, there were children – sometimes whole families – swept away in the flood. One trotro driver interviewed by CitiFM held back tears and fought for composure as he named 5 friends who died right in front of him. Before the waters had receded and before we had a chance to bury the dead, the blame game began.
Government leaders like, Mayor Oko Vanderpuije, were swift to point the finger at the citizenry, stating that it was those who built on waterways that were the cause of these floods. With the backing of the presidency, he has begun to tear down the homes and businesses of those who have found themselves the unlucky scapegoats of this draconian campaign. What the Mayor and others have failed to address and acknowledge is that in order for a person on business to build on a waterway or flood zone, they had to get city approval at some level. Whether that was under the table or with a certified document, land was sold by someone in authority. Rather than tearing down buildings, the Mayor and the President would do well to tear down the rot employed in their respective offices.
Citizens were quick to point the finger back, reciting a history of promises over the last 3 years that Accra would never flood again. Some went so far as to unearth newspaper clippings from 1988 citing the same flood events, followed by the same recycled promises.
Next, we pointed the finger at one another. We are the ones who drop litter on the ground. Non-biodegradable plastics wreak havoc on the environment, and when the casually discarded items choke our sewer system, they compound an already detrimental situation.
The fact is, there is plenty of blame to go around. Blaming the government and vice versa isn’t going to solve this problem, and if the citizens of Accra and other major cities do not take care, we will be singing this same song and sipping on the bitterness of our present tears in 6 months when the rain comes again.
We will not get a new citywide (or countrywide) underground sewer system by 2016. That’s an unfortunate but real fact. There are short term measures that we can take though. The first that MUST be tackled is the plastic that covers the beaches, roads and major gutters in the metropolis and outlying areas. Ghana must also refuse to become a dumping ground for the world’s e-waste. Computer hulls, motherboards, towers and wires are not biodegradable. They are not just poisoning the soil, they are poisoning our people and changing the nature of the soil, making it more water retentive. Those found funneling e-waste into the country must be held to account.
We have to ban plastic. Look to Rwanda for proof that the Ghanaian CAN (and must) do away with this scourge. Once it is banned, we can then focus on re-purposing the plastic that litters our shores and wetlands. It can be used as building material roads and houses and even clothing/accessories. Many of the Ghanaian expatriates who fled Ghana during the great Brain Drain era in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s ( during the coup and democratic reformation eras) would be happy to lend their scientific expertise, if only they felt welcomed to do so. There is no need to go to Germany for “brain work” – to quote General Mosquito – when we have loads of smart and knowledgeable Ghanaians (at home and abroad) who are itching to do their part to help the country be great again.
Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, we MUST have scheduled and reliable rubbish collection provided by both public and private sanitation companies. Because let’s face it: we can talk about educating the masses against littering and calling on the government to desilt waterways and gutters: but unless there are stop gap measures on the front end to ensure that plastic and other rubbish is disposed of responsibly by ALL, we are just kidding ourselves and chasing our tails.
The greatest irony of the flood is that it exposed all of the corruption Ghanaians in the middle and lower income classes have been agitating against for the past year or more. Officials rarely take notice of demonstrations unless there is property damage, violent crime or loss of life. Protestors did not have to lift a finger to destroy property. Flood, fire and wind obliterated the gas station of the unscrupulous owner who did not have his building inspected for leaks and up to code. It is heartbreaking that so many people died as a result of the type of negligence that is rife in every system in the country. Some may recall when the multistory Melcom shopping center collapsed and the horror that ensued, carnage that was rooted in the same negligence with regard to building codes in much of the capital city.
The flooding disaster in Accra was avoidable. All of the evidence has born that out. But it is not unique. Kumasi also experienced similar flooding in February of this year. The root causes and reasons are the same: there was no city planning and no soil consideration. Kumasi is a Garden City without any gardens. There are few trees to absorb the rain, as they have all been cut down. Water needs somewhere to go, and it is within the Ghanaians power to direct it.
We are not ants. There is no reason that Ghanaians should scatter and perish when it rains.