Growing up in Kumasi, just like other children, we found a lot of joy in unrealities and caveats from our fears, but never did we have a yellow streak, that kept us from running out anytime it rained. We absolutely loved the experience. It was as though playing in the rains ironed out the wrinkles in our juvenile minds. Whenever there was lightning, we would say, “God, is taking a photo of us.”
Nowadays, anytime the clouds gather - the die is certain to cast- especially in Accra, the capital of Ghana. Flash floods have become an excessively enigmatic situation in our society. What is even more disturbing is how it leaves us all rummaging through our minds one for one word: disaster.
Flash foods as defined by Wikipedia, is a rapid flooding of low-lying areas: washes, rivers, lakes, dry lakes, basins etc. It may occur as a result of heavy rains, hurricanes, and meltwater from ice glaciers, and even dry soil, with low absorption properties.
In other cases, flash floods may occur as a result of blockages in drains, poor sanitation management and the topography of an area (landslides). There are quite a number of prime movers of flash floods.
With a particular focus on Accra’s cantankerous issue of flash floods, I will elaborate on two austere causes, and how a much needed “all hands on deck” approach is critical.
“Waste not, want not”.
“Of all the waste we generate, plastic bags are perhaps the greatest symbol of our throwback society. They are used then forgotten, and they leave a terrible legacy”. – Zac Goldsmith.
One abhorrent factor about the aftermath of the Accra flash floods is the solid waste you find strewed all over the streets. Waste management, particularly solid waste, worldwide is nothing short of Byzantine.
In a World Bank 2018 report, Rapid urbanization, population growth and economic development will push global waste to increase by 70% over the next 30 years to a staggering 3. 40 billion tonnes of waste generated annually.
The World Bank’s 2016 report.“What a Waste 2.0” also gives astonishing statistics about the severity of this matter. In 2016, the world generated 242 million tonnes of plastic waste, which is equivalent to 24 trillion plastic bottles, 500 millimetres, and also equivalent to the weight of 3.4 million adult blue whales.
It is beyond the shadow of a doubt that, this is a scathing situation which is hard for developed countries, and unimaginably harder for developing countries. It is also a capital intensive management process. The World Bank, since 2000, has committed over $4.7 billion to more than 340 solid waste management programs around the globe.
In addition to that, the World Bank adheres to most of its objectives pertaining to worldwide waste management by encouraging citizen participation in waste management in different states, raising awareness about the dangers of unmanaged waste to health and security, and even the creation of knowledge, to assist states design sustainable waste management programs.
I believe Ghana, is at a stage of formulating a solid waste management program as well, because, the President, H. E. Nana Akufo Addo has been quoted a number of times saying, he is going to ensure that Accra, becomes one of the neatest cities in Africa during his tenure.
In a recent report, the World Bank has approved a $200 million fund for the Greater Accra Resilient and Integrated Development project (GARID), which will improve flood risk management, solid waste management and enhance access to infrastructure in the Greater Accra Region.
We can take a cue from China for example. Their acquisition of $80 million, a loan from the World Bank propelled household solid waste separation. The loan also has supported the construction of a modern anaerobic digestion facility to ferment and recover energy from organic waste, which will benefit 3 million people in China.
While the government plays its role, let us agree with Ede Ijjasz – Vasquez, Senior Director of the World Bank’s Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience Global Practice, when he says, “Solid Waste management is everyone’s business. Ensuring effective and proper solid waste management is critical to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Littering around should strike a bitter chord in everyone because our actions play a pivotal role in this problem we all face. Choked gutters result in flash floods because it becomes a hindrance to the existing drainage system. It is not ad hominem to one leader, this is a collective effort. The less we litter our environment, the safer we are.
Inappropriate building sites
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”- Albert Einstein.
Building in waterlogged areas, or in waterways is an incautious decision. It is not a catch 22, it is simply not right. Every community has a laid out plan by expert surveyors which outlines the structure of the community and should be adhered to. Sad to say, most community leaders sell lands for a bob or two, and forget the jeopardy of their actions.
Nonetheless, when a building is about to be constructed in a waterlogged area, experts suggest that the excavation should be a depth of about three to five feet deep in the ground. Thereafter, there should be a layer of hardcore stones, and be left to dry for about six months, and in some cases, 12 months. This long drying duration helps the laid foundation attach firmly.
Also, when a building is in situ in a waterway, a proper drainage system should be installed.
Elements such as:
- Gutters: Designed to help collect and discharge rainwater to branches or downpipes.
- Downpipes: Designed to collect and transport water to building collectors and ditches.
- Drains: Helpful in the absence of downpipes to transport water to the right receptive channels.
And many more other elements should be significantly considered and implemented to accelerate a good drainage system for households. On a nationwide scale, the construction of multiple catch basin grates in pavements, and along the streets, can help drain the water which accumulates on the streets.
In the case of Netherland, some of these grates have been placed vertically and horizontally in the pavements, which work effectively. There are also a lot of circular grates on their pedestrian lanes as well. This system dates as far back to 1924, yet it is useful today to their country.
Tokyo, Japan, for example, is said to have the most stupendous underground drainage system. The city of Tokyo has an average annual rainfall of 1, 530 kilos and 100sq of the city is below sea level, making it a huge water prone area that resulted in massive and horrendous floods in the past.
To manage the situation, they built the Red Sluice Gate, which was completed in 1924. Advancing, the Blue Sluice Gate was established within a span of 13 years with an amount of 3 billion dollars, which diverts the river overflow, whenever there is heavy rainfall in an elephantine underground structure. This establishment protects the lives of 5.4 million Tokyo residents today.
Still on the subject of drainage, Brazil’s approach too to establishing a modernized urban drainage system is pretty brilliant. Aside from development management plans in most of its big cities, Brazil is also keen on raising awareness within its communities and establishing a multidisciplinary approach. With a legal framework, the country believes the intertwinement of community support, sanitary measures, socio-economic aspects and technical and engineering advancement is the key in the management of urban areas.
This clearly shows that Accra’s flash floods can be controlled with short term measures and long term measures. And just like Brazil, discipline on the part of the people can make a huge difference. Again, implementing an effective water management system by the government which encapsulates hydrology and environmental science research is a must. These we should do, and must do.
Other than that, we are poised to encounter the numerous adverse effects of flash floods such as loss of properties, the outbreak of diseases, harsh economic implications, and the most bloodcurdling one of them all, the loss of precious lives.
Shall we die one more time?
Reminiscing, the June 3 disaster definitely sends a shiver down one’s spine. The day started off with a subtle downpour, which intensified with time, then resulted in a flash flood. The throng needed shelter and found the then Goil Filing Station at Circle, which caught fire, claiming the lives of about 150 people. The value of the vandalized property was estimated at ¢1, 658, 847.00
As idiosyncratic of this nation, a five-member committee was set up. The cause was identified to have been a lit cigarette, and then followed some recommendations from the committee. Paramount of them was to dredge the Odaw River.
In May 2019, also the story hasn’t changed. The story is being told with stronger vehemence since no one seems to have the urge to take up the gauntlet.
Whatever happened to gleeful children dancing and playing in the rain? Or did God lay down his camera?
“Why and how are words so important, it cannot be used too often” – Napoleon Bonaparte.
Dufie Boakye is an administrative staff at the Diaspora African Forum (DAF).