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Feature Article of Friday, 9 November 2012

Columnist: Tsikata, Prosper Yao

Melcom Incident is a wakeup call, not an act of God

My condolence to friends, relatives, and compatriots who lost acquaintances in the carnage that took place yesterday at the Melcom shopping mall in the Achimota neighborhood. My heart goes out to all who suffered in one way or the other. But while we mourn the dead and attend to the severely injured, a window of opportunity has opened for us once again to consider our ways as a people.

In 2010, an earthquake that measured 7.0 on the Richter scale hit Haiti killing 316,000 according to the Haitian government. Just around the same time, Chile experienced an earthquake that measured 8.8 on the Richter scale, killing only 300 people. Not only was the Chilean quake 700 – 800 times stronger, it was also greater in depth, measuring 21.7 miles compared to a shallow 8.1 mile depth of the Haitian quake, which caused more carnage.

The lesson from country analysis of the two situations indicate that the construction method adopted by the two countries vary greatly. One country adopts a measured and meticulous approach to the construction of edifices – permits are granted and inspected, architectural designs evaluated for safety and so on – the other adopts the convenient approach to its construction work – debi debi ebe yeyie, figuratively meaning “anything goes.” The conclusion is: “if anything goes, then anything comes in its wake,” as the Haitian scenario has demonstrated.

What took place yesterday at Achimota is a window on the reality of what might happen in case of any earthquake equal to that of Haiti, not Chile. I have read on the Facebook wall of one of my facebook antagonists (good nurtured antagonism in pursuit of the common good) that minutes after the incident occurred, the Vice President was on site to lend a helping hand in the rescue mission and that shows he is a practical man and not a rhetorician. The President himself also interrupted his campaign a few hundred miles away to return to the accident site to also assist in the rescue mission. I say Ayeko to you folks for being hands-on at the political level in ensuring that those who were devastated by this event find some help at the highest political levels.

In an opinion piece for the renowned academic journal, Injury Prevention, S.N. Forjouh (1996) bemoaned the lackadaisical attitude in most developing countries, including Ghana, where fatalities are viewed as random, haphazard, “even as acts of God.” This does not only go to underscore the etiological cosmic views of the people – be it from the Christian faith, Islam, or African Traditional Religion – which is rooted in one eschatological and apocalyptic explanation or the other. With the tendency to regard these events as acts of God, the causes are neglected and the cycle repeats itself. Examples are inexhaustible in the road traffic sector of the Ghanaian economy, where thousands are killed and many more maimed each year.

I vividly recollect that in Haiti, a cholera outbreak in the wake of the 2010 quake was attributed to poor witchdoctors who were attacked by irate mobs. Does the example resonate with our own society? I believe strongly that even though health (in relations to safety), risk, and safety issues might not be one the agenda for the 2012 general elections in Ghana, the incident at Achimota should force the question into the minds of Ghanaians and to the political space: what are we doing with the haphazardly sprouting buildings all across Accra and other major cities of Ghana? Are we going to be serious for once and start dealing with these issues before “anything comes?”

A word to the wise, they say is enough. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear: let’s not attribute human failings to acts of God. Again to those who have suffered colossal loss and damage, may the peace of the Lord be with you and restore your loss.

Prosper Yao Tsikata Pytsikata@yahoo.com

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