World Environment Day: a call to action against perennial city floods


World Environment Day (WED), as we all know, is a global platform for public outreach to create awareness and protect the environment with participation from over 143 countries. This year’s commemoration will be focused on the theme ‘Living Sustainably in Harmony with Nature’, and each of the countries will tailor the outreach to suit their ecological challenges.

Floods are a major hazard and source of human vulnerability which can lead to high mortality rates. Other impacts include outbreak of diseases; disruption of energy supply, communication, transport infrastructure; and interference in public service delivery.

This year’s commemoration must be tailored to discuss and find lasting solution to floods in the country.

Undoubtedly, perennial floods around this time of the year have been one of Ghana’s biggest ecological challenges – maybe second only to illegal mining (Galamsey). This is the time to say ‘No’ to floods in our major urban cities and stop the loss of lives and properties whenever the rains come.

Urban flooding has been a frequent occurrence in Ghana, and the most devastating flooding event in Ghanaian history occurred on the 3rd of June 2015. This flooding incident and an explosion of a fuel filling station at Kwame Nkrumah Circle, in Accra, claimed over 150 lives and destroyed lots of properties while displacing hundreds of people.

Also, in 2020, NADMO and Ghana Red Cross Society (GRCS) reported that a total of 26,083 people – of which 10,890 were children – were affected and 19 deaths reported in the Upper East Region as a result of floods.

With the rains setting in so early this year, and the flooding situation getting worse day-in day-out following the heavy downpours, World Eco Day is definitely a perfect call to action for all stakeholders – from individuals, landlords, businesses to town planning authorities, state agencies, CSOs and NGOs among others.

The devastating effect of floods in our country is seemingly becoming immeasurable. Within the past month or two, major roads, bridges, cars and homes have been destroyed in some of the country’s 16 regions.

Cause of Floods

There are two main causes of disasters – natural and artificial or man-influenced disasters. Now, little can be done when the cause of these floods is natural; but when it is induced by activities of humans like we have here, then there is a need to rally around the flag to curb these recurring floods.

The flooding situation in the capital city, for instance, is attributed to human activities as several experts over the past years have outlined.

Possible reasons for these flooding cases have been related to non-meteorological factors which include poor drainage systems, building on water-ways, improper disposal of refuse, limited roof-top rain-harvesting in urban areas, land cover change, less lawns, and limited tree planting.

The inaction of city authorities and gross indiscipline on the part of the citizenry can be listed as starting point for the perennial flooding as listed above. Weak enforcement of laws on the built environment, rapid urbanisation, haphazard construction, ineffective engineering of drains and poor waste management have all been identified as failure on the part of leadership over the years in managing the space.

Delay in completion and stagnation of construction resulted in problems such as choking of ongoing drains by weed growth and silt build-up at the sites of suspended works are purely due to ineffectiveness of state officials and agencies.

Have you noticed that some of the most poorly-planned communities and those close to a water-body such as the Odawna, Abossey Okai, Kaneshie, Dansoman, Circle – Kwame Nkrumah Interchange, Alajo and Agbogbloshie are the most-hit areas?

How far with the Odaw River dredging initiative that has been in the pipeline since God knows how long? Have we as a nation finally found a solution to single-use plastics?  How regularly are the waste management companies collecting waste in our communities? What happened to the every first Saturday of the month clean-up your frontage initiative; can we measure the impact? When will demolishing structures built on watercourses be more than rhetorical statements?

Are we not concern that the issue of flooding has been discussed at length every year but no serious action has been taken on it? The attitude of city authorities and some members of the public to waste management and disposal has been horrible, and something needs to be done urgently – and so this is the time to act.

Floods in northern parts of the country

In the northern part of the country, though rain-caused floods persist most often, the Bagre Dam in Burkina Faso spillage causes serious flooding and extensive damage to farmlands, houses, properties and loss of lives across the country, particularly in the Upper East Region.

In 2018, for instance, according to a National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO) report, the floods caused 14 deaths and 34,076 people were displaced – with damage to properties and economic loss estimated at US$168,289 for only Accra and Kumasi, the two main cities in the country.

Areas of Kumasi Metropolis, Ghana’s second-largest city, and surrounding districts were among the hardest hit. Busy city streets and the New Kejetia Market were inundated.

Collective efforts by all approach

WED, is a call to action for all stakeholders and every citizen of this country to be responsible and show concern about the environment we live in. The Ghana Institution of Engineering (GhIE), Ghana Institute of Planners (GIP), the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area Sanitation and Water Project (GAMA-SWP), Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs), religious and political leaders must all come on board to address this menace.

The basic unit of development in Ghana is the metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies (MMDAs), and the problem is happening all over but they are not acting. People pour waste into drains and backyards which chokes the main drains. Meanwhile, the authorities fail to act even though there are bye-laws.

There are several instances when drains were not designed to the appropriate capacity to be able to accommodate the volume and speed of run-off water; but these construction works were supervised and contractors paid with the MMDAs deeply involved. The time has come for MMDAs to step up their game, and developers must eschew encroaching on watercourses.

Individuals must be concerned and take responsibility for development planning, waste management and ensuring that the right thing is done in their communities.

To better adapt to urban floods, it is also suggested that climate change-related issues and strategies to encourage local participation should be incorporated into the planning process. The impact of climate change on rainfall intensity, duration and frequency has become relevant in recent times.

Climate change increases the likelihood of extreme rainfall, and its intensification creates a higher risk of damaging flood events that threaten both life and the built environment; particularly in urban regions where the existing infrastructure has not been designed to cope with these risks.

The theme ‘Living Sustainably in Harmony with Nature’ is a call for enforcement of laws, change of attitude toward waste management, increasing the capacity of the drains to carry rainwater, demolishing structures on water-courses to allow water flow, and promote green environment initiatives.

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