When the rains come…
• Rains cause havoc in Accra every year
I live on Osabiede Street, a flood prone area of Mataheko in Accra. This area used to have a seven-year cycle of flooding. The first I experienced was on June 20, 2002. The second was June 19, 2009. I was preparing for the next one in June 2016 when June 3 happened in 2015.
Osabiede, or Kaneshie, is just one of the numerous flood prone areas of the capital and other places in this country. We all remember the fire that came with the flood at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle that took scores of lives, including my landlord’s grandnephew who found himself at Circle by default. It took us all by surprise.
Then we were told there was the need for a storm drain in front of the Accra Academy Senior High School that would solve the perennial flooding of the highway christened Dr. Busia Highway. When I visited the construction site I knew what was done was not a storm drain. I am told when President Akufo-Addo went to inaugurate the project he was mad at what he saw.
I am no engineer in hydrology, but common sense told me that would solve nothing. The next raining season saw the southern wall of Accra Academy come tumbling down. The asphalt on the stretch opposite the Kaneshie market folded up like a roll of linoleum. Osabiede Street was impassable and I could not move my car out of the driveway.
I went to the area office of the Department of Urban Roads where the Maintenance Engineer informed me that the roads in the general area of Central University had been given on contract and they would be fixed before the next rains set in. When I went to check I realised laterite had been spread on the street named after the celebrated musicologist, Dr. Ephraim Amu. Till date, the streets have remained undone and deteriorating.
I called the then Member of Parliament (MP) for the Ablekuma Central Constituency who told me it did not come under his remit. He forwarded the contact of the Municipal Chief Executive (MCE) to me because, according to him, the Assembly was responsible for such things.
When the MP lost in the 2020 elections I was not surprised since the constituency had a notorious reputation of making their MPs one-term office holders.
I agree it was not his job as MP, but I wondered if he could not lobby the Assembly on our behalf. I placed a call to the MCE who picked it on the second ring. It was a woman and she agreed to meet with me at her office on a date and time.
I was at the offices of the MCE ahead of time. She was four minutes ahead of the agreed time and quickly asked her Secretary after me. Madam Mariama Marley Amui was a very comely and motherly woman. She informed me that she was appointed to the job a month or so and was new to the terrain. After conferring with her administrator, one Tagoe was summoned to her office.
Tagoe said he knew the problem of my area too well but said he had to check if it was still under the jurisdiction of the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) or if it was ceded to Ablekuma Central.
I asked him to give me his contact so I could check back on him. He declined and wanted mine so he could give me an update. Over four years on Tagoe has not been in touch and, knowing how public officers behave, I have not bothered to go back to the Assembly.
The Municipal Engineer, Justice Abdoni, drove in just as I was about to leave the premises. He told me in professional terms that our area needed a huge capital inflow to fix. It turned out that the engineer was right and I gave up on trying to go round offices talking to people who knew next to nothing about drains. I mean proper drains. He said a proper drainage was needed from the area near the GRA offices at Mataheko eastwards through the Abossey Okai area into the Korle, then into the Gulf of Guinea.
A couple of months before last year’s rains I was told some people had come to our area, marking spots for what they referred to as areas to consider for expansion of the drains to forestall further flooding. I later understood they were talking about the World Bank funding the project. Knowing that the World Bank would not give out money without ensuring it was expended properly I was a little relieved.
Nothing was done and the rains came to destroy the street the more. A young entrepreneur decided to make a stretch of the street motorable, in concrete, for his delivery trucks. After about 60 metres and over a few hundreds of thousands of cedis, someone showed up claiming he was the contractor chosen to do the drains and asked the young entrepreneur to discontinue his effort and save his money. He said he would commence work in September.
September came and went and we are in February. We have not seen or heard from the man claiming to be the contractor. The street remains unmotorable save the concrete stretch. In a couple of months the rains will come again and the cycle will continue one more time.
I have already asked my compatriots up north to make the perennial floods from the spillage of water from the two dams in Burkina Faso their election issue next year. We elect and appoint people to fix our problems yet the problems remain unsolved and, in some cases, get worsened. We have engineers who should foresee issues and advise policy makers but some are either in bed with the politicians or simply do not know their job.
Without having an engineering mind I can determine that a lack of legislation on how we build our homes and offices takes flooding into consideration. There must be a law that prohibits tiling compounds of homes so that the ground can soak some of the water.
The worst case scenario must be to allow pavement blocks not to take more than 20 per cent of the compound space. Home owners must be encouraged to grow grass in their compound.
Our technocrats must push our policy makers to do the needful in the interest of the people. Until a little over a decade ago, my birthplace of Koforidua knew no flooding. Almost every home in the Eastern Regional capital is now tiled, giving rainwater little chance of being absorbed into the soil thus opening the city to annual flooding anytime it rains.
Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies must make it mandatory for homeowners to build troughs to harvest rain water on their property. Many of our estate developers leave very little or no space for their grounds to take water. I wonder if common sense asks them where they think water will go whenever it rains.
Many natural disasters cannot be predicted, but measures we put in place have the potential of mitigating their devastating effects. This is what leadership is about. What happened in southeastern Turkiye and northwest Syria could not have been prevented but the number that died could have been averted if the homeowners had followed guidelines for building in earthquake zones.
How prepared are we since Accra is sitting on a tectonic plate or an earthquake fault line? Let’s not forget that the last very severe earthquake to hit Turkiye was in 1939, the very year Ghana had its most severe earthquake. Does this tell us anything? Is history about to repeat itself? We will see the dredging of our drains after the rains have started. This is our idea of preparedness.
The rainy season is not waiting for our politicians and their communicators to finish screaming at one another in the media space before it comes. Let them settle down to what Ghanaians voted for them to do. Meanwhile, how ready are our leaders when the rains come?
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By Dr. Akofa K. Segbefia