The Weija Dam Obituary

The Weija Dam, perhaps the second largest water reservoir in the country after the Volta reservoir is on its way to extinction. According to experts, the rate at which encroachment and pollution are taking over the lake, in less than 10 years the lake will belong to history and can only be compared to the infamous Korle Lagoon in Accra.

The dam was constructed in 1978 (construction began in 1974) by an Italian company, Messrs Tahi. It is said to be the second urban water system to be constructed in Ghana, after the Birimso in Cape Coast. The lake is formed over the Densu River in the Ga South Municipality travelling a distance of about 116 kilometres from the Atiwa mountains where it takes its source. The river traverses through three regions: Eastern, Central and Greater Accra where it enters the sea at Bortianor in the Ga Municipality. The Weija lake covers an area of about 9,000 sq. hectares and serves over 2.5 million people in Accra East and Accra West. It has many communities and villages surrounding it. There are islands in it as well.

The lake has provided employment to many people especially the fisher folk who until recently were practicing what can be termed as sustainable fishing. Some have however thrown decency to the dogs and resorted to use of dangerous chemicals in their operations, in their greedy quest to increase fish catch.

Many environmental challenges confront the lake, principal among which are deforestation, pollution and encroachment on the catchment. Communities living along the banks of the lake have cleared large portions of the vegetation surrounding the lake for farming purposes. This has caused the lake to be losing much water due to the drying up of the moisture content of lands surrounding it. As a result of the surrounding land losing protective cover, anytime it rains, sheet erosion transfers huge volumes of sand into the water body causing much siltation and its attendant problems. In addition to clearing land for farming activities, some people also engage in harvesting wood for energy purposes, further destroying the vegetative cover of the place.

Pollution is also another problem confronting the lake. All kinds of waste materials are dumped in there. They range from solid to liquid waste. Due to the poor waste management practices of Ghanaians, communities living along the banks of the lake tend to use the lake as a refuse receptacle: pouring anything unwanted into the water body; household refuse, faecal matter, dead bodies, etc. As a matter of fact, the pollution happens along the entire course of the river Densu, from Koforidua through Mangoase to Nsawam until everything finally assembles in the lake at Weija. Pollution of the lake compounds at Weija as a result of the several industrial and commercial activities which have sprung up in the vicinity. Within the catchment can be found people engaged in various occupations. One can find sand winners, stone crackers, the fisher folk, fishmongers, drivers and their mates, mechanics and people whose activities are less noticeable. The presence of a Police Check Point and a toll booth has worsened matters as a result of the upsurge of hawkers and other vendors in the community. All the waste they generate find their way into the lake, thus compounding its problems. Records indicate that Ghana Water Company Limited, operators of the Weija treatment plant spend close to GHc 40,000.oo( forty thousand Ghana cedis) a day to treat Water at the dam before it is supplied to consumers. According to sources, the cost of treating water from Weija is far in excess of what is takes to treat water at Kpong, where water from the Volta lake is treated. At Weija, alum, chlorine and lime are used in the treatment whereas at Kpong only chlorine and lime are used. The addition of alum for the treatment at Weija is to remove excessive pollutants. The pollution is so high that several species of fish have become extinct. Information available indicates that some 30 years ago, there were as many as 21 different species of fish. Now only four species can be found. The size of the fish has also shrunk drastically and the daily catch has also fallen. The reason for this is attributed to the high level of pollution of the lake.

Perhaps the biggest threat to the lake is encroachment. People have encroached on the boundaries of the lake with much impunity, grabbing every available space for any activity or venture, damn the consequence on the lake. A green belt created to check encroachment has been ignored and people are having a field day with private developmental initiatives. Within the catchment can be found houses by the newly rich who in their quest to acquire properties are prepared to do the unthinkable, flouting every regulation and bye law to achieve their objective. Springing up in the green belt are structures of any imaginable size: single storey buildings, palatial mansions, industries, kraals, hotels, ghettoes, mud houses and huts. Indeed the list is a tall one. People sell lands to unsuspecting ready- to- buy customers who in their zeal to achieve their aims do not do any proper search to ascertain the legal situation of the plot of land. Land selling syndicates have sprung up all over the place operated by chiefs, asafoatse, linguists and so called palace elders with gangs of hoodlums called landguards at their beg and call to inflict death on whoever will dare ask questions. The land traders have links and are able to provide dubious documents to the buyers to claim ownership of the property. Once these documents are acquired, dubious or not, the buyers rush to put up the structures. Not even a stop building; produce permit warning on the developing structure can put them off. It is believed they sometimes put the marking on the structures to deter even the local authorities from coming around.

From the look of things the collapse of the Weija dam is imminent. If things are allowed to go at this rate, within 10 years, the lake will become like the Korle, so bad that no organism can survive in it. All the fish will be gone. As at now, only four fish species are caught in the lake. Their sizes have also shrunk drastically, a clear warning on coming events. With Ghana s notoriety in waste management, its obvious that the lake will become a dump site for communities living in the catchment just as its being done on the beaches these days. Already all sorts of waste: liquid and solid are poured into the lake daily. It is just a matter of time and the lake will become a cursed natural resource nobody will like to see. The stench alone will be enough to cause epidemics. Compare the size of the Korle to Weija and put the odour to be emanated from the two water bodies in juxtaposition; which will be more dangerous?

The pollution aside, another looming danger is the imminent collapse of the dam. Should the walls of the dam collapse now, the catastrophe will be beyond imagination. A few weeks ago, floods hit some parts of Accra. Lives were lost and several properties destroyed. The whole nation was in a state of mourning. In 2001, 126 people perished in the stadium disaster when Asante Kotoko played Hearts of Oak. It was international news with all the major news networks focusing attention on Ghana. Pardon me for bringing back some of these sad memories, but the import of this message is that in the event of the Weija dam collapsing, none of the aforementioned disasters will come close in terms of loss of lives and property. According to staff of the Ghana Water Company Limited, the effects will be felt as far as Kaneshie, some kilometers far away from the dam. Communities like Dansoman, Bortianor, Tetegu, Aplaku and Gbegbeyise will all be wiped out. Panbros with all its salt and salt pans will be totally consumed. More than one million people will be displaced. As for fatalities, it will depend on the time the event will happen. If it happens in the night, God save us, a lot people will continue dreaming on end and will find themselves rendering account of their stewardship before the Grand Old Man. In short, the fatalities will be historic, more than 100 thousand people will die and properties worth billions of Ghana cedis will be lost. Roads will be cut off, bridges will collapse, hospitals will be destroyed; markets, schools, nurseries, lorry parks, homes will all be destroyed. It will be a sorrowful scene, too sorrowful to imagine yet it will happen if we do not start addressing the problems now.

Ghana cannot afford to let such a vital national asset such as the Weija dam go waste. Indeed we shall be the laughing stock of the international community if we stayed aloof for such a disaster to occur. People will not understand why we allowed ineptitude swallow us up to a point of self destruction. However, the situation is not beyond repair. WE MUST START TACKLING THE PROBLEM NOW.

The one time solution to the problem is the political will to save the dam. Most of the big time encroachers are politicians or have political leanings. In view of that, they are able to bend or defy the rules always to have their way. For fear of losing votes and possibly elections, aspiring parliamentarians, sitting parliamentarians, aspiring assemblymen and women turn a blind eye to the impunity that goes on in the lake and the dam. Any pragmatic solution to the Weija problem must tackle the bull by the horns ie: take the decisions and let the rules work without fear of losing an election. Any encroacher, whether a political giant or not must be treated as the rules prescribe. If it an issue of demolition, it must be done without fear or favour.

The judiciary must be empowered to handle land issues fairly but firmly. Culprits engaged in land sales in the catchment must be made to face the full rigours of the law and where possible given long prison sentences to serve as deterrent.

The Weija catchment must be re-demarcated and all structures in the prohibited zone must be demolished to save the dam from collapse. It is better to demolish a few structures than losing whole townships and hundreds of lives and million others displaced.

For a long term solution, the place must be made a military zone with a regiment of soldiers permanently garrisoned there to protect the national asset, lives and properties of individuals.

Let us act now to save the Weija lake.