“It’s raining, it’s pouring. The old man is snoring. He went to bed and he bumped his head…but he woke up and either packed his things and left or woke up to feel his room flooded or he drowned later in the day.”

It’s a new spin on the old nursery rhyme. It refers to the recent heavy downpours in major cities and towns that have got us, the populace, to talk about floods because “that’s what it’s caused” and it’s resulted in unsurprising consequences affecting property and life.

Floods have been blamed for deaths. They have been blamed for the abrupt of end of everyday activities and this has been the case for many years.

Around this time of year, mega litres of rain – either in stints or as a heavy downpour – is considered strange by most but it’s also considered not far from normal due to climate variability.

Climate variability is simply a quite, slow or developing change in climate from year to year. For example, temperatures can fluctuate around the average over a period of time while averages either decrease or increase as well. When researchers and scientists discuss the phenomenon, they are usually referring to a time frame spanning a few months to 30 years.

In an interview with Daniel Dadzie on Joy FM’s Super Morning Show, a Data Analyst from the Ghana Meteorological Agency (GMET) clarified that the recent rains, whether in spurts or over a long period time, are just “slightly above normal” rather than something completely new altogether, considering the data and calculations done by GMET on weather patterns over the years.

With the case of Ghana and the recent rains, it’s a case of climate variability happening now and that’s what we are witnessing as a slight change of weather conditions. Every year we may have more rains and more sunshine.

The GMET has, therefore, debunked claims that the consequential severe flooding happening across the country has any link to the long-term effect of climate change.

Dr Yaw Agyeman Boafo, a Research Fellow at the Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability Studies at the University of Ghana, backs GMET’s data analysis and explains that the cause of recent flooding is not a result of climate change but rather as a result of city planning or the lack thereof and urban development.

“You can’t totally blame floods on climate change, because there is a very human angle when it comes to that, it’s urban development. There are approaches to what we call smart cities or integrated urban development planning.”

“When we build in areas that are supposed to be waterways, we construct roads that have poor drainage systems and we refuse to have greenery, technically speaking blue and green spaces. If you go to other cities like Vancouver for example, they design the city around parks, in other cities they have water retention ponds that are located in a central part of the city so that when there is rain, they capture much of the water, store it and later on, the water moves to wherever it’s supposed to move to.”

“The floods are coming because the amount of rainfall we are receiving are on a higher level and it’s contributing to the flooding but you can’t say the rainfall or the variability in November is the reason why Accra or the other cities are flooding,” he revealed.

But we are not prepared to deal with it. If we had proper planning the water will move on to a designated location.

The city’s planning

Accra, the hub of the economy, the administrative centre and capital of Ghana, is home to banks, luxurious hotels and various tourist destinations as well as factories, landfills and shacks.

Accra which began as only Jamestown and Usshertown, became the capital after it was discovered that the city had economic potential.

Structures would go up and more people would build ‘kiosks’ – makeshift wooden structures – for shelter. Occupants of these structures will place these shelters almost anywhere and call it home. The city would undergo an unregulated development. You would chance upon land and space and name it your base.

These makeshift homes will become a ubiquitous feature – at Dzorwulu, Achimota, Dansoman etc – competing for space with well-planned concrete houses.

Space to build will become a very scarce (and even dangerous) commodity. Scarce because a small piece of land could cost a lifetime of savings. And dangerous because ‘landgaurds’ could kill you for trespassing on someone’s land (or even on your own land).

So people will begin to build anywhere – especially on waterways.

In Dzorwulu, for instance, freshwater from mountains or rainfall to Accra’s plains will no longer be collected in natural basins on the city’s landscape and could therefore no longer find its way to the sea as it was naturally designed to do. Ing. Dr Desmond Aryee-Boi, a Structural Engineer, explains that this is the case of Dzorwulu, where the word translates to ‘large water basin’.

In our kind of city, “when you have a situation like Accra, the population is very huge and there is no proper planning and people start building in these basins and on the waterways, what do you expect the water to do?” he questions.

There are four other possible ways a flood can occur in a city. Dr Aryee-Boi laid them down: lack of vegetation, groundwater flooding, blockages and dam spillages.

Most of the reasons for flooding can be traced to some form of human activity or the other. Gutters are either choked with sand, plastics, sewer waste, or weeds and plants.  We have decided to build on, by and in places created naturally for water to pass.

We have also decided to allow the city to be built by chance and not by a planned design.

We have allowed ignorance to run how we treat and disrespect our environment.  Therefore, we are the cause for loss of properties and our perished lives.

We owe it to ourselves to solve our problem, the savage floods that we created.

Solutions have always been available

To solve our flooding problem, Dr Aryee-Boi believes that the existing Four A Method should be employed to significantly reduce incidents of floods not only in the city but across the country.

“We need to create Awareness (the first A) and we need to educate the public about the reasons and causes of the flooding. We need to sensitise the people, we need to create a new mindset for the people.”

The goal of the Awareness stage is to make people conscious about their environment and the possibility of flooding. He also believes that the city planners have to be conscious at Avoiding the potential disaster looming (the second A).

“You know it will rain and it will have to go somewhere. So you have to make sure that there is proper planning in place. It is so obvious that every year we get floods. Why? Because we don’t have an avoidance plan.”

The damage has already been done and Dr Aryee-Boi shares that some plans for Accra have already expired but we should be looking towards a city plan with a vision for the generations to come.

“It’s all about the people,” so “the city must be planned. A long term plan, not two years or three years,” but we should be thinking, “how do we want our city to look like in the next 40, 50, 60 years?”

Even though it may seem unrealistic, the first and foremost step, he said, is to have a vision of what all major cities like Kumasi, Tamale and Accra, would look like by the end of the 21st century. He suggests that billboards be put up across town so that citizens are motivated to participate in achieving the vision by aspiring to live better and respecting their environment.

He insists that in the future when we design spaces for water collection and greeneries, we have “to let green spaces be green spaces and blue spaces be blue spaces and to desist from redeveloping in these artificially created areas.”

It should be the duty of the lawmakers and enforcers to ensure that strict laws about such spaces in our environment be respected and appreciated because it is for our own good that they exist. This is the third A – Alleviation. It is also the Ghana Meteorological Agency (GMET) and the media’s responsibility to, in the meantime, help us manage floods by informing us of weather conditions and also the duty of national relief organisations like the National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO) to work with the public to be proactive.

Proactiveness

Dr Ayiboi’s final approach is Assistance. He explains that maximum resources should be provided for government relief organisations like NADMO so that they can maximise their efforts in times of disasters like flooding. Communications Director for NADMO, George Ayisi, believes that while resources are limited, the public and the organisation can work together to be proactive concerning floods.

“When a disaster like flooding occurs, the emergency centre should be contacted so that relief aid can attend to the crisis.” Although, in the short-term, he also encourages school authorities, for example, to create evacuation strategies because children especially need guidance when floods pose a threat to their lives.

“Accra used to be a marshy land but houses occupy those places now,” Mr Ayisi continued. He said in the long term perhaps bigger waterways could be constructed so that the water has somewhere to go when the city floods.

Dr Boafo, Dr Aryee-Boi, and Mr Ayisi, all professionals in their own right enunciate a common yet key source of the flooding problem that has for far too long gone ignored in Accra and even beyond – the way cities are built in Ghana should be the very first point to look at to avert damage caused by floods, to life in the future.

It is agreed that unenlightened attitudes towards the environment by the Ghanaian citizen must be exchanged for social and environmental consciousness but failure to do so will mean that worse consequences will come back to haunt us.