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Opinions of Friday, 22 June 2018

Columnist: Esther A. Armah

Ghana's rains: Flooding, fury and forgetfulness

The writer, Esther A. Armah The writer, Esther A. Armah

June is a memory of mourning here in Ghana.

Horror stories are triggered by the events of June 3rd 2015. It was just three years ago when more than 200 people would meet their maker due to a deadly toxic combination of fire, water, a lack of shelter and a petrol explosion. The pictures were horrific. The death toll was a national tragedy. The loss was deep.

The wake of that tragedy was an outpouring of shock and pain. There was a fury directed at the political powers that be. There were philanthropic efforts from organizations, churches, media houses and more. June 3rd 2015 was marked as the day we would not forget.

And yet, it passed quietly. Forget we have. And here we stand again.

In 2018, it would be the aftermath of June 18th floods. Seven people are known to have died, the death toll may yet rise.

A Monday night of continuous heavy rain stole dreams and turned citizens into corpses. The sound crashed against windows, turning homes into water logged space and prompting the same weary, uninformed, leadership-lacking politicians to articulate their annual drivel about potholes, gutters, citizens and their individual action.

Here in Accra, three died. NADMO has just found two more bodies; and four people are missing. In Sokpoe, the Volta region, a grandmother and her two grand-children were electrocuted. They were residents of Morkordze, a suburb of Sokpoe in the South Tongu District of the Volta Region. The rains had ripped off the roof of their home and the three were seeking shelter. They died after being electrocuted by a live-wire whose insulation had peeled off. The grandmother’s name was Yaa Gayi. Her two grandchildren were Elolo Dofey and Morkporkpor Dofey.

Some of the hardest-hit areas were Odawna, Ciricle and Adabakra in Accra and Oyibi and Mankessim in the Central Region. Entrance access to healthcare at Mankessim Jubilee Hospital was cut off due to the flooding; Korle Bu’s Child Healthcare facility was also hit.

Morning radio turned into ground zero for calls for help and rescue. Maddening and heartbreaking stories of women and men stuck in homes or en route to work, hemmed in by rising waters, flooded by the inadequacy of Accra’s mayor paying lip service to change.

Submerged cars, ravaged homes, loss of work hours, and a call to assist – that is our cycle of action with these annual floods.

NADMO is overwhelmed with calls. The National Disaster Management Organization set up by government legislation back in 1996 may come in and be the whipping boy for failed rescue efforts – and they will remind us they lack sufficient funding, equipment, numbers and vehicles.

June 3rd 2015 was billed the day we would not forget. Here we are in the aftermath of June 18th 2018.

We always forget. Or we always seem to move on.

We mop up, we call in, we mourn, we weep, and we hurt. How many more casualties? How many more years of this groundhog day of floods and fury and forgetfulness?

In the eye of the storm, in the middle of floods when citizens wade knee deep, sloshing out flooded homes, fighting to rescue belongings, patching up and checking in on loved ones, it is unreasonable to require critical thinking and engagement of citizens. In the aftermath of new shelter-seeking citizens, assessment of damage and ongoing calls to sustain families, it is also unreasonable to call on citizens to engage critically.

It is also beyond time for an end to a groundhog day of June floods, outrage, rallies to help the immediate needy and an inevitable lackluster response from non-elected officials. The aftermath of June 2015 kicked off a determined effort to hold the powers that be accountable.

There are critical social, religious, policy, political and housing issues here requiring our collective focus and attention.

Not forgetting would mean finally doing the kind of critical work, policy implementation, project engagement and completion, gutter unchoking that would end this particular nightmare.

We will again remember The Conti Project. Conti is an international project developer. In August 2013, the then NDC government of Ghana and the Conti Group of Companies of the United States of America signed a US$660 million agreement for the drainage and sewage project. It was called the Accra Sanitary Sewer and Storm Water Drainage Alleviation Project. It was a five-year project funded by US Exim Bank. Its aim? Make Accra green, clean up its filthy, choked gutters, and create a highly functioning sewage system. Parliament approved the loan facility. There was a ground-breaking ceremony.

In June 2015, the aftermath of a night of horror would ignite the urgent, angry call regarding the fate of this green lit project. The then Minister of Finance, Seth Terkper, would eventually tell us that funds had been delayed due to project scope changes.

This was a wholly inadequate explanation given the national tragedy faced by our nation. And most devastatingly, there seemed then to be no real urgency to move forward in order to prevent such a night from re-occurring.

2018 officially makes it five years later. The Accra Sanitary Sewer and Storm Water Drainage Alleviation Project should have been up and functioning. Accra would have a sewage system.

There are other projects. The GAMA (Greater Accra Metropolitan Area) Sanitation and Water Project started in 2015 with a $150 million funding support from the World Bank. How is that going? Is it complete, functioning and in service to citizens?

Shoulda, woulda, coulda is the refrain of too many projects that have disappeared under the words of politicians, the memory of citizens and the moving on of media.

And of course, there will always be a report of some kind; and perhaps a Committee. These are the responses to our disasters.

Our elected and too many non-elected officials remind us they seem to be woefully inadequate to carry out the necessary leadership to create projects and enable their execution. Instead they seem to fall back on protection of individual reputation, and a concern that the rain-filled buck does not stop with them.

There may be some good news on this political horizon. In April, the government approved a comprehensive national project to deal with the perennial flooding that characterises the rainy season in the country, particularly in Accra. The plan includes the construction of a modern sewage and drainage system across the country. Hmmmm, another new national project – maybe not such good news. Why do we not finish what existed or build with what we have? Why must we start afresh with the election of each new government? Isn’t this so frustrating?

Politicians are not the only group deserving of condemnation. Pastors must stand in this line too.

The Christian Council is suspiciously silent on these annual rains. We are a Christian nation; we tithe, prayer and build Churches much faster than we drain sewage systems. And yet, as weather is predictable, why do we not hear The Christian Council issue a nationwide call to Churches? Why don’t we hear them call for those Churches with sturdy structures to fling open their doors so shelter-seeking Ghanaians can find refuge before rain turns into death?

Why is there a lack of collective Church engagement? What role might the Ministry of Religious and Chieftaincy play in such a collective call to create shelter? Why is it left to individual pastors? Churchgoers could also make such a call – a demand on their houses of worship. We do not hear of Churches suffering the flooding, failures and destruction endured by homes, hospitals and roads.

Unsafe structure demolition is also part of this cycle.

In Accra, the lack of affordable housing together with the growing population seeking such housing creates dangerous flood maths. People make homes where it is unsafe, unplanned, dangerous – but affordable. The call to demolish is routinely met by rage as people fight to protect the homes they have. This is an untenable situation. With this latest flood cycle, NADMO has again called for the demolition of structures built on waterways – they are seeking legal backing to do so.

As I am writing this it has just started raining again here in Accra on a cool morning.

Rain falls on Christians, politicians and pastors – on the rich and the poor. But, as a nation, rain –this cleanser, a grower of plants, a feeder of soil, a necessity of life – too often prompts fear.

Are we not weary of this flood, fury and forgetfulness cycle?

It is hard not to be overtaken by cynicism and a throwing up of hands after navigating the challenge of surviving the latest round of rain.

But we must not succumb.

It is precisely in the aftermath of these floods when our fury must become most keenly focused. Forgetfulness is not an option; we can create other options.

Floods, fury and forgetfulness need not be our cycle. Let’s link arms and aims to demand better and do better.