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Rising waters, sinking lives – Victims of man-made’s fury

In an unfortunate turn of events, Pius Amedzor Dabah, a 31-year-old teacher, Bruku Ivy Yawa, a 35-year-old teacher, and Tedoku Mawufemor, a 40-year-old health worker, found themselves at the mercy of the Akosombo Dam spillage flood.

Bruku Ivy Yawa

The devastating floodwaters swept through their communities, leaving a trail of destruction and despair.

Victims of Man-Made Fury

Pius resides in Mepe, located in the North Tongu district, while Bruku and Tedoku call Ganakpoetorkor, in the Central Tongu District, their home. These resilient individuals have not only been residents of their communities for many years but also active contributors to the betterment of their regions.

Pius is a devoted family man, while Bruku is a loving mother of four children. Tedoku, a health worker, serves her community tirelessly.

The recent flood disaster has brought trauma and devastation to their lives, as the relentless floodwaters engulfed their homes and livelihoods.

Valuables worth hundreds of Ghana cedis were lost, leaving them uncertain about the cost of recovery.

The Nightmare Unfolds and The Heavy Toll

On October 10, 2023, around 3 AM, Pius experienced the harrowing Akosombo Dam spillage as he and his family slept. A sudden call awakened him to the nightmare unfolding outside his window.

He described the situation, saying, "We were asleep when I heard a sound of my name at my window that my house is flooded." In a state of confusion and panic, Pius woke his wife and child and managed to guide them to safety on the unaffected side of their home.

The pre-dawn hours left Pius disoriented and traumatized, almost leading him to flee his own house. Miraculously, he gathered his important documents and reached out for help. Good Samaritans came to his rescue, preventing further tragedy.

Just like Pius, Bruku and Tedoku hastily collected essential belongings as the floodwaters continued to rise. By 6 AM, water had reached window level in their homes.

Pius shared the heavy toll the flood had taken on his life, lamenting, "My four-bedroom apartment that I was building, which was at footing level, has also been submerged. The five trips of sand I bought and a trip of gravel too were destroyed." The floodwaters shattered the dreams he had been building.

Bruku, still grappling with the loss, expressed her worries about the upcoming burial of her late mother. With a five-month-old baby to care for, she described her predicament, saying, "Where to sleep, what to sleep on, and what to eat and feed my children with, including a five-month-old baby, is a concern. Floodwaters destroyed my fridge too."

For Pius, the disaster meant a night spent in someone else's home, sleeping on a grave, as even the "Safe Heaven" lacked electricity, pushing some residents to pay GHS10.00 to charge their mobile phones.

The devastating floods have tragically resulted in loss of human lives. The impact of these floods extends to multiple communities across more than NINE districts, spanning the Greater Accra, Eastern, Volta, and Bono East regions. Among the hardest-hit districts are South Tongu, Central Tongu, North Tongu, Shai Osudoku, Anlo, Ada East, and Asuogyaman.

Ghana's navy has been at the forefront of rescue operations, tirelessly working to save lives. Their efforts have yielded significant results, with over 8,000 people successfully rescued thus far.

An Unfolding Humanitarian Crisis and Concerns for the Future

The consequences of the flood extend beyond personal hardships. Darkness engulfed the affected communities, leading to theft in some areas. Medical care became a challenge, with access to healthcare severely disrupted. Vital food supplies stored in freezers spoiled as residents struggled to find nourishment.

Though local authorities, non-governmental organizations, and community members from outside the affected areas are providing assistance, the distribution of aid remains a significant problem. Frustrations grew as some victims were excluded from aid distributions based on their location.

The victims are deeply concerned about the potential health issues that may arise if the government does not evacuate them to a safer location. Stagnant water has already begun emitting foul odors, creating a health hazard. The risk of disease outbreaks, including cholera and diarrhea, looms large.

Access to clean water is also a pressing issue, even as food and drinking water distribution remain insufficient. Pius, Bruku, and Tedoku grapple with the daunting question of where they will reside and how they will rebuild their lives from scratch.

The dire consequences of the floods have severely impacted access to communities, with roads being cut off. This has left commuters stranded and has forced some to resort to using boats and canoes, which unfortunately puts their lives at further risk.

The extensive flooding has also engulfed tracts of land, including farms and communities located downstream of the Akosombo and Kpong dams, amplifying the scale of the disaster.

In the face of adversity, the affected residents have demonstrated remarkable resilience and community unity. Pius attests to their strength, saying, "We are in crisis, but the community folks are united, helping to evacuate others."

The road to recovery will be long and arduous, but with support and solidarity, the victims hope to rebuild their lives and reclaim their communities.

Other Victims of the Flood

Additional flood victims include a businessman who suffered losses of about ¢200,000 in product value due to the flood. Expressing his desperation, the distressed Harry Cosmos Amevor appealed for urgent government assistance, mentioning that he can hardly afford to eat amidst this crisis. He emphasized the devastating impact on his investment, with his hopes fading as the flood continues.

Mr. Amevor implored the government to intervene, suggesting that financial aid or loans with extended repayment terms could be a lifeline. He also expressed concern about the future of his business, as the surrounding communities are in disarray.

For instance, in Sogakope, where he supplies products to more than ten hotels, seven of them have been severely affected by flooding. The situation appears grim for businesses like his.

Meanwhile, Golden Exotic Limited, Ghana's largest banana exporter, has incurred substantial infrastructure losses totaling half a million dollars due to the excess water release from the Akosombo Dam.

The floods have submerged 45 hectares of farmlands and an estimated 44,528 bunches of bananas. According to Mr. Benedict Rich, the Managing Director of Golden Exotics Limited, the company's supply chain has been severely disrupted. This situation, during the peak harvesting season, has impeded their ability to export over 2,000 tonnes of bananas weekly.

To mitigate the situation, the company has initiated the construction of a barrier along the river to prevent further flooding and is also engaged in pumping efforts to enable workers to salvage what remains. The unexpected nature and scale of the flooding have caught management off guard, as they had no advance warning of the dam's spillage.

The Deputy Chief Executive of the VRA responsible for services, Ing. Kenneth Arthur, explained that even though the current water inflow into the reservoir stands at 400,000 cubic feet per second, only about 183,000 cubic feet of water is currently being discharged. The duration of the ongoing discharge process is uncertain.

Did VRA Issue Warning To Communities?

The issuance of warnings and sensitization efforts by the Volta River Authority (VRA) is a matter of contention. While the VRA asserts that it conducted sensitization workshops and warned residents in advance of the controlled spillage of the Akosombo and Kpong Dams, some members of the affected communities, as well as Members of Parliament, have raised concerns about the adequacy of these efforts. They say that the sensitization and warnings were insufficient, leading to legal threats and demands for accountability.

Mepe resident Felix Ayiku expresses his dissatisfaction with the current mode of communication with the local residents. He criticized the use of social media for disseminating information, citing that many people in the area lack smartphones and older individuals are unfamiliar with this technology.

He emphasized that social media is not the most effective method, noting that while there are written notices circulating, they are often only noticed by younger individuals.

"Social media is not the best way. There are letters flying around but we the young people see them. We saw it, we tried to [understand] what they really mean.”

He expresses his sadness, stating that there is a need for comprehensive education so that the community can be adequately prepared for such events. He also shared his concern about witnessing older people struggling to access clean drinking water.

"We need adequate education so people can be fully prepared for this kind of events. It's really sad. I saw old people, aged people struggling to get water to drink.”

Keta MP, Kwame Dzudzorli Gakpey, has expressed dissatisfaction with the VRA's response, asserting that the affected residents were not adequately sensitized before the controlled spillage of the Akosombo and Kpong Dams.

He also refutes any prior engagement with Members of Parliament over the spillage. Gakpey has taken the stance that legal action is necessary, citing the lack of warning and the subsequent damage caused to residents without prior notice as grounds for a lawsuit.

“There was no warning or so from VRA even to spill the water. At the end of the day when they were in crisis, it was too late… I am encouraging our indigenes, especially the Volta region we need to sue the VRA,” he said.

On the other hand, South Dayi MP Rockson-Nelson Dafeamekpor has called for the VRA to take responsibility for the aftermath of the spillage, stressing that affected residents require interventions to mitigate the current havoc rather than the allocation of blame among state institutions.

He also highlights concerns about inadequate sensitization in the communities along the riverbanks before the spillage occurred, putting the responsibility on the VRA for the resulting disaster that has affected over 100 communities along the Volta Lake's banks.

 "The issue in contention remains the level of sensitization that was carried out in the communities along the river banks before this spillage. Engagement with people in these areas reveals inadequate sensitization.

"The VRA has slept on its responsibility and brought about this disaster that has befallen over 100 communities along the banks of the Volta Lake," he insisted.

The Centre for Climate Change and Food Security (CCCFS) has called upon the government to launch a criminal inquiry into possible criminal negligence by individuals responsible for averting or managing such calamities.

The organization contends that the Volta River Authority should have implemented sufficient measures to proactively anticipate the surge in dam water levels driven by climate change.

The CCCFS Recommendations and Urgent Calls

The CCCFS believes that the VRA has been more responsive than proactive in recent years. The Director of Research, Sulemana Issifu, emphasized that initiating a criminal investigation and subsequent prosecution would serve as a deterrent for the future, preventing the recurrence of such disasters.

CCCFS recommends that the government should explore options for the permanent relocation of individuals residing in waterways affected by spillage. This is deemed an urgent priority, and it is perplexing that this issue has persisted for over five decades without a definitive resolution.

The organization suggests that the government should consider expanding the dam's capacity or creating adjacent reservoirs to store excess water, which can be used for various purposes, including agriculture. The absence of any apparent plan to enhance the dam's capacity since its inception raises questions about Ghana's commitment to progress in the nation's development.

CCCFS also proposes that the government establish a robust early warning system to accurately predict and prevent potential damage resulting from dam spillages in both southern and northern Ghana.

Sulemana believes that, due to the extensive damage witnessed, there is an urgent need for the government to declare a state of emergency. This would help mobilize the necessary resources to aid those affected by this devastating situation.

A Threat to Biodiversity, Ecosystems, and Public Health

The communities affected by flooding are not limited to humans; they also include trees and various animal species. These areas boast unique biodiversity, hosting wildlife, insects, endemic species, and domestic animals. However, the rapid loss of their habitats to floods poses a significant threat. The consequences of this loss extend far beyond what meets the eye, affecting the health of the entire ecosystem and its ability to provide crucial services, such as clean drinking water and sustainable harvesting of forest products.

In addition to the loss of topsoil, the floodwaters carry sediments from erosion downstream, leading to the clogging of riverbeds. This further degrades water quality, posing a risk to aquatic life and the well-being of the local population.

James Mensah, an environmental professional, and a Graduate Public Service Intern at the Office of Environmental Justice, Illinois EPA, USA, highlights the often-overlooked victims of flooding – the intricate ecosystems and biodiversity that exist in the affected areas.

Mensah says the floodwaters carry with them a silent menace – pollutants. These pollutants range from pesticides and agricultural nutrients to industrial chemicals, sediments, and hazardous wastes make their way into rivers, causing a severe degradation in water quality. This means that the lives of aquatic species are at risk, as are the well-being of the people who depend on these rivers for their livelihoods.

“The lives of aquatic species and the well-being of people dependent on these rivers would be at risk. The pollution of these water sources can put the suffering communities at further risk of waterborne illnesses, exacerbating public health problems,” he said.

Mensah says these communities face an increased risk of waterborne illnesses, adding to their existing struggles and public health concerns. The pollution of vital water sources exacerbates their vulnerability and poses a direct threat to their health.

He also indicated that, the floodwaters have the power to wash away the topsoil of submerged forest areas, particularly those along riverbanks. This process can lead to erosion, alter the landscape, and have long-term consequences. The fertility of agricultural lands is compromised, and the road to restoration is often a challenging one, requiring years of effort.

Variability, Not Unusual Weather Patterns - Downstream Complexities and A Multinational Issue

Joshua Asamoah, a seasoned meteorologist at the Ghana Meteorological Agency (GMet), emphasizes that the recent spillage cannot be solely attributed to unusual or recent changes in weather patterns over the Akosombo area. He explains that rainfall variability is a regular occurrence in Ghana. Every season brings its unique characteristics, and no two seasons are alike.

"Rainfall patterns vary from year to year, and each season possesses its unique characteristics," he emphasized.

The Akosombo case stands out due to its downstream location. Events occurring in the upstream regions have a direct impact on the downstream area, especially because it's a dam. All the water collected from the upstream regions stagnates in this area. The release of water through spillage only occurs when the dam's structural integrity is at risk.

"The Akosombo case presents a unique situation due to its downstream location. Any events occurring upstream directly impact the downstream area. Moreover, as a dam, it serves as a reservoir for all the water flowing from the upstream regions, which accumulates and stagnates in this specific area," he stated.

Asamoah further highlights the international dimension of the Akosombo Dam situation. Several regions and countries contribute to the complex water dynamics. Upper East, North East, Northern regions, Oti region, Volta region, Burkina Faso (Bagre Dam), as well as parts of Benin and Togo, all have an influence on the Akosombo dam. The water flow from these regions ultimately converges in the downstream area.

"The area itself has not exhibited any notable shifts in terms of rainfall patterns. Instead, we observe variations, which are regular occurrences. These variations have been happening over time, but we cannot ascertain a specific trend, whether it's changing negatively or positively. What we can affirm is that there is always a degree of variation in the rainfall patterns for the area," he clarified.

Natural Variations in Rainfall and A Year of Extreme Events

While some may wonder if climate change plays a role in the recent spillage, Asamoah underscores that the area itself has not exhibited significant changes in rainfall patterns. Variations are a common occurrence, and while climate change can exacerbate extreme weather events, the recent spillage is primarily attributed to natural variability.

"So, what we're witnessing are extreme occurrences of the typical events experienced in this region. This is where climate change can play a role, but it's important to note that there isn't a single, identifiable factor that we can attribute to climate change as the cause. The dam's spillage is primarily associated with the consistent variability we encounter. The rainfall patterns in the Akosombo region have not shown any significant changes to conclusively link recent events to climate change," he explained.

Asamoah points out that this year was expected to be an El Niño year, which often leads to extreme weather conditions. The seasonal forecast had predicted above-normal rainfall for many regions, including those that feed into the Akosombo Dam. Consequently, the high accumulation of water in the dam is not surprising given the forecast.

Asamoah says that the flood situation is primarily attributed to the regular variability in rainfall patterns, which has been a recurring phenomenon.

“The recent spillage at the Akosombo Dam is not a singular event linked to climate change, he says, but rather a complex result of regular variations in rainfall and a combination of factors that affect the Volta basin countries,” he said.

As per the Deputy Director General of the National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO), Seji Saji, the flood resulted from intense rainfall patterns attributed to climate change.

"The heavy inflows from upstream of the Volta dams can only be explained by the volume of water that we are receiving from Burkina Faso to the northern region because those form the catchment areas of the Volta dams," he said.

Mr. Saji explains that the significant increase in water entering the Volta dams from upstream, particularly from Burkina Faso to the northern region, is a direct consequence of the catchment areas of the Volta dams. He further stated, the substantial surge in water can be attributed to the effects of global warming and shifts in climate patterns."

Mitigating Dam Spillages and Enhancing Flood Resilience

Dams generally have maximum water levels, beyond which the structural integrity of the dam becomes endangered. To avert this danger, spillways are incorporated into dams to manage water levels and keep the dam safe. Akosombo Dam recently faced a challenge with its water level exceeding the maximum operating level, necessitating the controlled release of excess water to maintain safety.

Professor Eric Ofosu Antwi, a hydropower and Dam Safety expert at the University of Energy and Natural Resources (UENR), explains that during dam spillage, the extent of inundation downstream depends on the discharges during the spillage. He cites the 2010 Akosombo dam spillage as a reference, noting that when spillage surpasses a certain level, numerous locations experience flooding.

“You want to ensure that the water in the dam’s reservoir does not rise beyond the maximum allowable level. That would increase the risk of uncontrolled overflow and also threaten the structural integrity of the dam, and can result in catastrophic failure of the dam. It becomes particularly critical in situations where rapid inflows are occurring for example, during heavy rainfall and allows for early warning and emergency preparedness systems to be activated.”

He says the primary motivation behind monitoring inflow patterns and water levels in dams is safety. Keeping water within the reservoir below the maximum allowable level is critical to prevent uncontrolled overflow and threats to the dam's structural integrity. Early monitoring allows for the activation of early warning and emergency preparedness systems.

He adds, that, “this is also very significant in Hydropower operations as it informs power forecasting and scheduling and all other measures needed to keep the dam safe. There are monitoring stations upstream that are used to provide information on expected inflows that are used to undertake system planning for the Hydropower Development.”

Consequences and Lessons for Future Dam Management and Flood Preparedness

Prof. Amos T. Kabo-Bah, an expert in hydrology, water resources engineering, and remote sensing technologies at the University of Energy and Natural Resources (UENR), provides valuable insights into the risks associated with a dam's water level exceeding safe limits. The maximum level of water in the Akosombo Dam should be 276 feet. According to reports, the water level in the dam was 276.92 feet or 84.405 meters.

He highlights that this situation poses significant dangers to both the dam's structural integrity and the downstream areas. These risks include over-pressurization, overtopping, erosion of the dam's surface, and other structural concerns. Downstream areas face severe threats, including flooding, property damage, ecological disruptions, and the displacement of residents.

Prof. Kabo-Bah stresses the importance of a well-executed Standard Operations Procedure for handling dam spillages, emphasizing that it should be consistently followed. He suggests that long-term prediction of spillages and the implementation of effective communication systems, such as SMS alerts and mobile apps, are essential. He cites Burkina Faso's advance notice of water release as a model for providing timely warnings to affected communities.

The professor underscores the significance of early monitoring and real-time data on river flows, advocating for the installation of sensors in basins to enable effective monitoring. Additionally, he recommends supplementing in-situ data with satellite information. Infrastructure maintenance, particularly of spillways, is deemed essential for dam safety.

“Use technology, such as SMS alerts or mobile apps, to quickly disseminate warnings to the community, and train community members to act as local alert points, ensuring warnings reach even remote or technologically disconnected areas,” he said.

In terms of preparedness, Prof. Kabo-Bah highlights the need for comprehensive and fair resettlement and compensation plans to anticipate potential occurrences. In cases of severe impact, permanent relocation for affected communities may be considered. He also suggests exploring the construction of storage facilities for excess water, which can serve various purposes.

“Comprehensive resettlement plans and fair compensation packages should be developed in anticipation of such occurrences. Thus beyond compensations, it may be advisable to consider permanent relocation for the communities that are severely affected by this current spillage.”

Community Engagement for Flood Resilience

Engr. Anna Amankwah-Minkah, another hydrologist and water resources engineer, states that constructing flood barriers and enhancing drainage systems are ways to improve flood resilience in vulnerable areas.

She says the Akosombo Dam spillage serves as a reminder of the importance of proactive measures, effective monitoring, collaboration between experts, and community involvement to reduce the impact of dam spillages and enhance flood resilience.

“With support from central government, construct flood barriers such as levees, dikes, or flood walls in vulnerable areas to redirect floodwaters. Also enhance drainage systems to prevent localized flooding during spillages,” she indicated.

Engr. Amankwah-Minkah also advocates for the establishment of a feedback system where the community can report observations, concerns, or suggestions related to dam management and flood preparedness.

She also recommends exploring other options or possibilities instead of spillage, including building storage facilities for water that would otherwise have been released. This water could be used for domestic, irrigation, or industrial purposes.

“It could even be pumped back into the Akosombo reservoir during the dry season when water levels go down to maintain optimum power generation.”

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DISCLAIMER: The Views, Comments, Opinions, Contributions and Statements made by Readers and Contributors on this platform do not necessarily represent the views or policy of Multimedia Group Limited.