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Opinions of Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Columnist: Dr Akofa K. Segbefia

Accra floods: Common sense gone awry

Accra seems to have gone full cycle since the June 3 disaster of last year that saw two natural elements of water and fire at play and which, sadly, took the lives of almost 200 people. Then again, we sit back and comment on what went wrong, what was not done right and what should have been done by who and by what means.

Once the rainy season is over, we all but forget the havoc wreaked by the floods and go back to our normal ways of doing things and wait till the next floods before we are reminded once again about nature’s fury.

I have watched the recent floods in France and the United Kingdom on television. I have watched Accra’s floods as a witness and on television as well. Sadly, where I live is perennial in flooding. While the European flood was just water, the Accra one saw water and garbage struggling for supremacy. Garbage of only plastic waste!

Why has Accra become so flood prone?

I will return to the waste in a jiffy. Why has Accra become so flood prone? The answer simply is that common sense has gone awry. Affluence is married to plain old stupidity. Instead of landscaping our homes with green grass, the affluent either tile their compound with floor tiles or pavement blocks, thus preventing the ground from soaking rainwater as was the case in the past. We then resort to flower pots to add colour to these homes.

In other jurisdictions, only flower hedges of up to a metre high separate one home from the other, allowing for water to find its way in case of rain, but what we do here is build concrete walls making the paths for easy flow of water extremely limited. The result is what has become an annual event of flooding.

Everyone with a bit of sense knows water finds it own level, yet some decide to build residential properties on water courses and the society looks on unconcerned. Permits for such buildings are issued by people trained as engineers who should know better, but turn a blind eye to the dangers of their action. The hard truth is that nature does not forgive.

Open drains

I have noticed some people block the open gutters in front of their property to prevent sludge passing. I wonder why people do this but I reckon it is a pointer to the fact that open drains do not serve the desired purpose. This brings me back to the waste issue. The more the Odaw River is dredged, the more space it creates for the dumping of waste into its course. This is the character of Accra. There is this case of a developer filling up a lake somewhere at Madina-Adentan to build a structure on it. Whoever this person is will go scot -free because officialdom is powerless to enforce the law.

Once dark clouds are spotted, residents along watercourses scramble to empty whatever waste there is before the clouds burst into rain. Paradoxically, these people never ask themselves where the destination of their waste could be. No, their aim is to rid their homes of the waste, period. After all, it takes the waste disposal organisations forever to come around, not so? And the irresponsible disposal of waste into the drains comes full cycle.

Can the urban jungle of Accra not have a policy that enjoins every building to have rain troughs to harvest rainwater, which has the potential of reducing the volume of water that floods the city? My family home in Anyako still harvests rainwater today as it has always done since I lived there from 1961 for six years. Could that be due to native wisdom or commonsensical approach to natural phenomena?

City officials expand some gutters in the capital and call them storm drains, which makes a mockery of futuristic thinking. Storm drains are capital intensive but are built 50 feet underground, not on the surface and open. These are huge underground drains that end up in the sea. This is what the city of Accra needs if we are serious about curbing the annual cycle of floods.

It is equally important for our open gutters to give way to covered drains. Underground drains will not provide receptacle for residents to empty waste into, will they? Without sounding simplistic, it beats me that no one in their right senses will throw rubbish about in their living rooms, kitchen or compound, but will do so indiscriminately once they go into a public space; into the streets, gutters or just anywhere.

The Netherlands lives below sea level. Its cities live virtually on water, but have been able to manage the situation. How can we replicate what that country does so as to alleviate the suffering of our people anytime it rains? I wonder if education has failed us or it is common sense gone awry or we are just incorrigibly undisciplined or a cocktail of all these three.