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Death and destruction in Accra; it is time to fix nation’s creaky infrastructure


June 3rd 2015 was Ghana’s darkest moment; two disasters, raging floods and a ferocious explosion all of which occurred in the nation’s capital, Accra, claimed the lives of hundreds of our fellow citizens. The staggering death toll was unprecedented and invariably threw a stunned and traumatized nation into mourning.

But our moment of grief should also be a moment for introspection, a time to ask ourselves some hard and pertinent questions which we are often inclined to sweep under the rug once the national attention shifts to another “big” news-story.

Authorities cannot feign ignorance, or trot out the argument that the floods were not expected to wreak massive havoc. After all, heavy drenching rains accompanied by Noah-like floods that regularly inundate the nation’s capital every mid-year aren’t novelties.

They are familiar occurrences and Ghanaian authorities and citizens are painfully aware of the death and devastation that accompany them. This year was unlike any preceding year. For days the skies opened and the rain came pouring down, triggering dangerous floods that would sweep people to their early deaths.

Given the above facts, the expectation was that city authorities would have been adequately prepared and geared up for the floods. However, from all indications, the Accra Metropolitan Assembly which is charged with the responsibility of catering to the needs of millions of Accra residents failed woefully to discharge its duty.

The Assembly was ill-prepared and thus could not at a short notice put in place adequate and elaborate plans to contain the floods and in the process minimize damage to life and property. This appalling display of bureaucratic ineptitude and indifference beg the question: why were the AMA authorities caught with their pants down?

It must be pointed out that the AMA shirked its responsibility on the fateful day of the floods and explosion because it did not feel particularly obliged to do anything proactive. As evidence, it will point to the inactivity of authorities going back to the post-independence era who only paid lip service to the perennial problem of floods in Accra.

As is usually the case in times of disasters, leaders are always the first to get the blame, the mayor of Accra was roundly condemned and some partisan types even called for his resignation. But the truth of the matter is that the mayor and the AMA appear overwhelmed by the problems engendered by the city’s rapid expansion and attendant urbanization.

Migration to the capital continues without any sign of abating. The allure of city lights and economic opportunities seems so irresistible and the poor neighborhoods in Accra now teem with people from the country’s impoverished rural areas. As would be expected, tremendous pressure is exerted on the city’s already creaky infrastructure.  

I applaud the government for been bold in terms of taking some “harsh” measures to address the city’s perennial flood problems. Its demolishing of Sodom and Gomorrah, a sprawling shanty town smack right in the center of the city, has been dismissed as political theatre by critics. But the government’s intention is clear; to facilitate the drainage of two nearby lagoons, the wooden structures in the slum erected haphazardly must be torn down. There is no running away from the fact that the drainage system in the capital city needs a massive makeover and the city’s proximity to the vast Atlantic Ocean makes this ideal.

It is worth noting that though the twin disasters may not have been prevented, some due diligence, nonetheless, by authorities would have made a world of difference and possibly saved lives and property.

I don’t know; these are my widow’s mite, anyway; if these steps were taken, perhaps we all will be singing a different tune today.  A blanket warning should have been issued and maximum use made of PSAS—Public Service Announcements—to alert the public about the inherent dangers of floods and to urge residents to stay indoors. The National Weather Service issued a warning about the impending floods earlier, but it fell on deaf ears as evidenced by the large number of people in the streets when the floods struck.

Ghana is a peaceful country; there is no social upheaval and we are not at war with our neighbors. Our   army largely sits on its hunches. This tragic occasion necessitated the mobilization of the army and its deployment to vulnerable areas to build flood defenses and to assist in the evacuation of residents.

In memory of all those innocent lives tragically cut short by the floods and explosion, it will be apropos if a flood defense fund is established without further delay. To avoid appearances of financial improprieties, the fund should be managed by a board of directors with impeccable credentials and drawn from a cross section of the population. The fund should be capitalized from taxes levied on businesses operating in Accra and voluntary contributions from well-meaning Ghanaians. Accra belongs to all of us.

The hope here is that there won’t be a recurrence of the tragedy we witnessed a month ago in the immediate or distant futures. A solution must be found to this problem. To this end, it is incumbent on officials of the AMA to devise an elaborate, sustainable and implementable plan that will be readily put in place whenever the city gets flooded.



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