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Opinions of Saturday, 1 May 2010

Columnist: Allotey, Nii Kwashie

Wake Up Ghana; We Could Go The Way Of Haiti: Series #3

Accra’s Seismic Risk: Is Anything Being Done About It?

This third in a series of articles seeks to answer two questions: who is responsible for disaster risk reduction in Accra, and what is currently being done? The different risk reduction players including their respective roles are discussed. The article ends by noting that what is being done is generally adhoc, and suggests the need for a more coordinated and well-defined seismic risk reduction program.

The knowledge of Accra as an earthquake-prone city is not a recent revelation. Such knowledge exists not only in the technical community, but is appreciated to some extent by the general populace. Random surveys of a few people by the author showed most to be aware of the problem, but with no clear appreciation of its extents and related implications. Interestingly, a number of respondents noted that they were aware of McCathy Hill as the most earthquake-prone in the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area (GAMA). This level of awareness is higher than what was expected, but is not surprising, since the metropolis has experienced quite a few noticeable earth tremors in recent times.

Some questions that could be asked are: One, who bears the responsibility of preparing the city for a major earthquake event? Two, what mitigation actions are currently being taken? This article tries to answer these two questions. It is important to state that the responses given are based on the author’s own personal knowledge and research. The author, however, believes that what is being presented is a good overall picture of the current state of affairs.

Local Players:
A number of organizations and individuals in the country are involved one way or the other in programs that are directly or indirectly linked with seismic risk reduction. These include the National Disaster Management Organization (NADMO), the Geological Survey Department (GSD), the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) and other sister municipalities in the GAMA area, the Building and Road Research Institute (BRRI), the Ghana Institution of Engineers (GHIE), researchers from the University of Ghana and KNUST, and a number of other concerned citizens.

The National Disaster Management Organization is the main organization in the country mandated to be responsible for all forms of disaster management. Its tasks are stipulated, among others, to include implementing national policies on disasters, coordinating regional and district disaster management action plans, and coordinating post-disaster activities. Technical committees that represent different types of disasters assist the organization by serving in an advisory role.

With regard to seismic risk reduction, the organization has collaborated with various stakeholders in organizing public educational awareness programs and post-disaster drills. An example of this is the Ahoboa earthquake post-disaster drill organized in 2008.

The 2009 Ghana Progress Report on the implementation of the Hyogo Framework for Action, prepared by NADMO, gives an overview of the organization’s current strategic goals. A major goal is the amendment of the law establishing NADMO to give it the legal authority to enforce disaster prevention regulations. The report also notes that the responsibilities of various stakeholders in disaster management were clearly spelt out at a disaster prevention stakeholders meeting in 2006. A careful review of the Country Progress Report shows NADMO to be more well-placed as a response-oriented organization, rather than a mitigation-oriented one. That is to say that, the organization seems better equipped to handle disaster risk reduction issues requiring physical action and logistical support, rather than having the capacity to engage in long and short-term disaster prevention planning and development.

In regards to the amendment of the NADMO law, the role of NADMO as an enforcer seems in some way to be a duplication of the role of local government (i.e., AMA and its sister assemblies) as an enforcer of its laws. Typically, these laws are supposed to be formulated with input from district disaster management committees, which are in themselves linked to NADMO. This overlap can thus be viewed as a second layer of enforcement, or on the other hand, as admittance by NADMO of the problem of the inability of local governments to effectively fulfill their enforcement mandates.

The stated benefit of the proposed amendment in regards to seismic risk reduction is to give the organization legal backing to demolish or stop wrongfully placed buildings, and those not designed according to the national building code. The latter presumes on the existence of a national seismic design code, and a cadre of regulatory personnel that are well-versed in earthquake-resistant design. Currently, the country has neither, so the effective enforcement of this law would most likely be a problem.

The Accra Metropolitan Authority and its sister organizations in the GAMA area are responsible for the development of policy on disaster risk reduction at the municipal level, the regulation of development projects, and the effective enforcement of their own bye-laws. As noted before, AMA and its sister organizations do not seem to have the resources, the needed capacity, and the political willingness to fulfill this function. Notwithstanding these limitations, AMA cooperates with NADMO and other stakeholders in organizing public educational disaster awareness programs and events.

The Geological Survey Department has till now been the sole organization in the country responsible for the monitoring of seismic activity, and the processing of seismological data. Sadly, as a result of the malfunction of old earthquake-monitoring instrumentation, not much data has been collected in recent times. With the recent agreement by government to fund the purchase of new monitoring equipment, and the opening of a new Seismic Data Centre at the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission (GAEC) with the responsibility to collect and process seismic data in the country, the unavailability of data on future seismic events should hopefully be a thing of the past. It is important to state that most of the old earthquake monitoring instrumentation were seismographs, it is hoped that the new instrumentation installed would include strong-motion equipment.

The GSD with assistance from international partners such as the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has also helped train a number of personnel in earthquake-related subjects. The JICA assistance has also been extended to NADMO personnel.

Particularly relevant, and an important first step in developing rational input parameters for earthquake-resistant design in the GAMA area, is a recent micro-zonation study by GSD in collaboration with the University of Ghana and other universities in Italy. The study was based on the concept of scenario earthquakes, and hopefully in the near future, can be expanded into a detailed seismic hazard assessment of the GAMA area, and for that matter, the country as a whole.

The Building and Road Research Institute has been involved in both the development of a seismic code for the country, and the organization of workshops and symposia on earthquake-resistant design. In addition to the BRRI, the GHIE in collaboration with KNUST has also organized symposia and seminars on earthquake-resistant design for its members and allied professionals.

With regards to code development, initial work done at BRRI was to modify the Euro-International Committee on Concrete (CEB) 1987 seismic code for use in Ghana. Recently, BRRI’s umbrella organization, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) released a press statement to the effect that a seismic code for the country is in its final stages of development, and would be soon published. The author is not privy to the contents of this “new” document.

Lastly, Various Concerned Citizens have occasionally published articles in the news media on the need to prepare for a major earthquake. One of the first individuals to have started sounding this alarm is Dr. Ofori-Quaah, a Geophysicist, formerly with the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation. Since then a number of others have written articles on the issue.

International Initiatives:
In a prior article of this series, the challenges facing Accra in regards to its vulnerability to major earthquake events were noted not to be unique to the city, but a problem faced by many earthquake-threatened cities in the developing world. It is therefore not out of place to provide a brief discussion on current and past global seismic risk reduction initiatives. Two of these are discussed below, unfortunately, Ghana, and Accra for that matter, did not participate in any of these programs

The United Nations launched a four-year Risk Assessment Tools for Diagnosis of Urban Areas against Seismic Disaster (RADIUS) initiative in 1996. The main goal of the project was to help better inform policy makers and the general populace of their level of seismic risk, and also to help them draw up action plans to mitigate against anticipated effects. Among the fifty-eight cities from all over the world that applied for the study (six from Africa, with Accra and Conakry coming from West Africa), only nine were selected, with Addis Ababa being the only city from Africa.

The second program is the Earthquake and Megacities Initiative (EMI). EMI has two main programs that are geared towards emphasizing the development of sustainable disaster reduction strategies that can be put in place by local governments with the support of local researchers and practitioners. The two EMI projects are: the Cluster Cities Project that brings earthquake-prone cities in a regional-setting together for experience-sharing; and the 3cd program that is a multi-disciplinary program aimed at determining acceptable disaster management standards and practices that can be successfully applied to complex urban environments of developing countries. A key priority of this program is to help shift disaster management strategies of local governments from a response-oriented approach to that of a mitigation-oriented one. No Sub-Saharan African city/country has participated in any of EMI’s programs.

To wrap up, this article has endeavoured to answer two questions: who is responsible for managing Accra’s seismic risk, and what is currently being done? The discussion noted that various organizations and groups are involved in seismic disaster risk reduction. The major question, however, is whether these programs are having the expected effect of reducing Accra’s seismic risk. It could be that these programs need more time for their effects to be noticeable. Nonetheless, it is the author’s view that the manner in which Accra’s seismic risk is being dealt with, is more or less disjointed and adhoc. There does not seem to be a well-coordinated and defined program with measurable milestones that can be used to judge progress in this area.

Seismic risk reduction of large urban centers in the developing world is a complex multi-faceted problem that cannot be dealt with in a business as usual manner. As stated in an earlier article of this series, to effectively tackle the canker of increasing seismic risk, it is important that the entire arsenal at our disposal be effectively utilized. The author is not convinced that the structures currently in place for the GAMA area can effectively deliver. This is, however, a personal view, and each reader is left to draw their own conclusions.

In the course of writing this article, the question as to whether any of NADMOs buildings and/or operation centers are designed to be earthquake-resistant kept occurring to the author. The author does not know the answer to this question, but if they are not, then similar to what happened in Haiti, NADMO might not even be operational in the event of a major earthquake, and the issue of effective coordination of post-disaster activities does not even come into question. Hmmmmm!!!

Nii Kwashie Allotey, Ph.D., P.Eng., Email: