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General News of Monday, 22 April 2013

Source: Daily Graphic

FEATURE: Odaw river suffocating under piles of garbage

Until steps are taken to control the dumping of garbage upstream of the Odaw river, the channel will remain choked, even if it is dredged regularly.

That is because contrary to perceptions that the activities of residents of Sodom and Gommorah, a squatter community on the Old Fadama Road, are the cause for the constant siltation of the river, a stroll along it tells a different story.

Right from the Avenor bridge, residents and squatters living alongside the shoulders of the channel dump all manner of solid waste into the drain, described by city authorities as critical to Accra’s flood prevention.

That is not to say that squatters at Sodom and Gomorrah or their counterpart scrap dealers, whose activities are carried out along the banks of the river, do not in any way affect the poor condition of the river.

Indeed, in the words of an environmental expert, Mr Godfrey Ewool, " the contribution of these squatters to the siltation of the channel is just an insignificant five per cent.

As debatable as this may appear, this assertion was, however, given credence when the Head of Storm Drains at the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA), Mr Graham Sarbah, stated, "I remember in 2009 when we were constructing the Onyasia drain, the weather changed a bit and we saw people carrying garbage and bringing it closer to dump into the drain so I asked them why they were doing that and the response was that, the garbage would be carried away by the water".

The Onyasia drain runs from Okponglo, meanders through to Alajo to join the Odaw drain and empties into the sea at Chorkor.


The tragic floods which have swept through Accra over the years, appear to be beckoning this year. This is because, the belly of the Odaw drain is choked, and can hardly carry any water into the Korle Lagoon.

The Odaw channel is one of the most abused in the country. Some squatters and even residents living along the tributaries and banks of the river prefer to dump solid waste into it, one practice which has rendered the investment made by the World Bank and the French government in 1999 wasteful.

The Odaw is, however, a major channel which drains Accra into the Atlantic Ocean, meaning that any form of hindrances to its flow will certainly impact negatively, whenever it rains heavily.

It flows from Abokobi and Adjankote hills through Ashongman, Atomic Energy area, West Legon, Achimota, Alajo, Avenor, Agbogbloshie and finally into the Atlantic Ocean through the Korle Lagoon.

Perhaps, it is the breeze that draws teeming young men to the banks of the river to attend to the call of nature or smoke weed. Interestingly, however, the breeze cannot be said to be fresher as overpowering stench accompanied by heat constantly emanates from the Kwame Nkrumah Circle portion of the river.

Traders at the Pedestrian Shopping Mall, especially those whose structures are located just by the channel, are having a difficult time "as the nauseating stench from the channel is sometimes unbearable".

"My sister, I believe you can also smell some. This is the kind of air we have been breathing every day and it is part of the reason why people are not willing to come and sell on this side of the market," Madam Yaa Gyamfua told the Daily Graphic.

"People squat along this river to attend to the call of nature every day and at any time. Previously, they did that in the evening or dawn, but today, there is no shame and it is done even during the hot afternoon," a concerned trader stated.

"We are not happy with this situation but we dare not confront them as some of them are violent," another worried trader confirmed.


The reconstruction of the 7.2-kilometre Odaw drain was part of the city's flood alleviation interventions but obviously, it has not achieve the set target of preventing floods from sweeping across beneficiary communities.

“To think that a lot of money was used to construct this drain is heart breaking,” a resident of Abossey Okai, Mr Emmanuel Abbey, said.

Like Mr Abbey, there are growing concerns about the condition of the channel now, and its capacity to perform the basic function for which the World Bank, through its International Development Assistance (IDA) and the Agence Francaise de Development, helped to construct.

In 1999, construction work began on the 3.5-kilometre channel from the Abossey Okai bridge to the Avenor bridge. Messrs CWE was contracted to undertake the US$10 million World Bank IDA-funded project aimed at mitigating the perennial flooding of the city.

In that same year, AFD also gave a concessional loan of 11 million Euros to finance the reconstruction of the Alajo Bridge and other flood mitigating works, including the Kpehe, Adabraka, Circle and West Ridge drains.

It was envisaged that the completion of these drains would put an end to the perennial flooding and its attendant loss of properties and lives, but this has not been so, as many years on, the flooding situation still persists any time there is a heavy downpour in Accra.


Indeed, floods have wreaked enormous destruction to lives and properties.

"43,000 Displaced By Accra Floods. 14 deaths recorded. The Daily Graphic reported on November 2, 2011.

“Heavy floods have swept through Ghana’s capital, killing nine people, officials say”, the BBC reported on October 27, 2011.

“A sea of rainwater has brought the capital of the nation to excruciating standstill on Wednesday morning” A Joy FM report said (August 26, 2011).

These are but a few of the headlines which we read whenever Accra experiences a heavy rainstorm, and it does not appear that the country will be reading something different this year, unless pragmatic steps are taken to dredge the silted Odaw in about two months.


In 2009, the Ministry of Water Resources, Works and Housing initiated a one-year maintenance project for the Odaw and Onyasia drains.

The 12-month project was undertaken by PENTREXX Ghana Limited, a local company, to reduce the ingress of silt from the lined part of the Odaw drainage systems into the Korle Lagoon. That project was, however, abandoned due to some difficulties experienced by the contractor.

Subsequently, Zoomlion Ghana Limited was contracted by the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) to dredged the channel last year, but that was also suspended following the initiation of the Conti Project.

The truth, however, remains that it is not prudent for huge sums of money to be expended on such exercises, when the causes for the siltation had not been addressed.


Some initiatives around the Odaw gives a glimmer of hope that if well planned, the Odaw can be protected from those activities which expose it to abuse.

Ornamental plants adorn a section of the banks of the river on the Letap Jewellers and Pharmaceutical stretch.

That did not happen by chance. Indeed, it has taken the leadership of the company, bent on greening a heavily polluted environment, seven years to see their labour yielding dividends.

According to the Managing Director of the company, Mr Haren R. Patel, it was extremely disheartening for him to see all that pollution and degradation around his company and so decided about seven years ago to embark on the greening project, which had so far paid off.

He told the Daily Graphic in a telephone interview that he wished all companies around the catchment would undertake a similar project to protect the Odaw from the needless pollution.

It is such an irony to view the beautiful Letap stretch of the Odaw whilst just across it, one sees the activities of scrap dealers messing up the place.

Whereas it is easy to appreciate nature because of the well-kept plants and flowers in and around the Letap company, one is filled with disgust and disappointment just watching thick black smoke emanating from lorry tyres and computers being burnt for a penny.