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Opinions of Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Columnist: Anokye, Kofi

Demolishing exercise must be done professionally

The June 3rd “twin disaster” that took away the lives of over 150 people across the capital city has led the entire nation to appreciate the need for doing things right; especially in the area of building and sanitation.
Unfortunately, the only lesson that seems to have been learnt by our city authorities is to go on a house breaking rampage without the least consideration of which structure must stand and which must make way if technical details are taken into consideration.
The Sodom and Gomorrah incident is one example of how clumsy we can go about this exercise and I for one feel their reaction is just a tip on the iceberg if this exercise is to be replicated across the region as we have been made to know.
In our quest to put some things right, people will lose their homes, families will have to look for new settlements and the lives of many will take new twists requiring massive adjustment and that is generally accepted
However, if authorities will adhere to professional standards and be technically minded in their approach, they are going to solve a huge problem and save the state some Ghana Cedis along the way.
There was no need to demolish the whole of Sodom and Gomorrah in the name of avoiding flood when experts could have advised where to break and create for the water without destroying everything. The best thing to do now that there is no alternative place of habitation was to focus on the structures that will interfere with the path to be created for the flowing of the water and occupation of the machines for the exercise.
The call to demolish houses in water-ways and water logged areas does not mean every structure in water way and in water logged areas must make way. Sure this is the approach every layman will adopt but the state cannot adopt the same method.
Though it is in response to the twin tragedy, this exercise must be more of professionally driven and less of emotionally driven.
Despite the fact that the twin tragedy that claimed over 150 lives and billions of dollars of properties emanated from our recklessness as a people, we cannot hold the man whose house prevented the rain water from getting a pathway solely responsible for the flood.
Most of those houses have all the permit and legal document (Can’t say same about Sodom and Gomorrah though) to be built where they are now and therefore our city authorities who were better placed with all the tools at their disposal to determine whether it was wrong or right to erect building there but failed to do so are equally at fault if not more.
In view of this, the approach should be guided by diplomacy and not one of bringing law breakers to book. If the law enforcer breaks the law, he loses the moral authority to crack the whip as he should when the law is broken by another.
We don’t have to solve one problem and create another.
I am of the view that the objective of the entire exercise should be to make way for water to flow and save as many properties as possible whilst finding lasting solution to this problem. This will save the state huge sum of money by way of compensation.
As it stands now, the nation is already fighting a huge housing deficit with little success and would therefore not be a very wise idea to just pull every property in waterlogged areas down, end up compensating the owners and allowing the land to go waste.
The good thing is that water is very flexible and therefore can be directed to trek any path created for it; so long as the path provided is big and deep enough to contain the quantity flowing at any given time.
In view of this, instead of focussing on pulling down every structure located at water logged areas or along the path or runway of rain water, they should first identify exactly where the drains will be constructed and demolish only the specific houses that will be affected by the drains or interfere with it in one way or the other.
Lands cannot be left bare because they are water logged when the adoption of smart drainage system can make it useful and habitable.
Houses that will not affect or be affected by the drains should be left to stand.
This also means that demolishing should not take place without concrete plans to construct drains to serve as runway for water and architectural designs of where each drain will be built.
That aside, I recommend that deep drains should be preferred over wide drains to save more houses from being demolished during the exercise.
When more emphasis is placed on width over depth, a larger land size will be required and greater number of structures will be affected
Saving the houses is not only in the interest of the owners but also the government.
While structures in water logged areas seem to be the target, it must also be noted they are not only cause of the flooding but also those house built on roads can be equally held responsible.
Walking through our various communities, there are a number of houses that have either deliberately or ignorantly been built where there is supposed to be a roads.
Though some of these houses are not necessarily in water logged areas (in fact some of them are actually in hilly areas) they contribute immensely to the flood situations.
Why am I saying this?
Roads serve as disposable points of rain water before they find their ways into the drains and therefore, whenever a structure is erected in the middle of a road, it blocks the running water from finding a harmless paths and end up forcing it to find more dangerous paths.
Some areas get flooded simply because of the wrong situation of structures.
Given that every community has an elaborate development plan that clearly spells out areas earmarked for roads, there is a reference to determine which house has been raised at illegal areas.
Such house should be identified and pulled down if we are to make serious impact in this exercise.
Whilst looking at pulling down structures that are causing the problems, those at the offices of the various MMDAs who issue permit for these house should also be made to answer why they issue permit to houses glaringly wrongly placed.
It is time people are made to take responsibility over their actions and there is no better a time as this.


That said, I want to state emphatically that it is not written anywhere that houses cannot be built in water logged areas. Most countries in Europe practically sit on water; but this is where some of the biggest structures in the world (this is not to say Europe doesn’t get flooded) are located.
What we have failed to do is engaging experts adequately in the various areas and stages of construction and this is one reason why houses built in flood-prone areas suffer more damages compared to those of other countries who respect technical people. (My next article will be on how building can be properly regulated)
As good as breaking down houses seems good at the moment, it remains a cure; time is overdue for us to focus on preventive measure.
Time to work with professionals
Kofi Anokye (CEO)
Koans Building Solutions
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