German-Ghana consortium develops flood risks reduction products

Ms. Charlotte Norman, Director of Climate and Disaster Risks Reduction-NADMO

We are in the month of May, and in Ghana the major raining season with its associated annual floods have started. And as usual in urban areas like Accra and Kumasi, livelihoods, property, economic infrastructure and lives are being impacted; in some instances tragically involving loss of lives.

Over the years, individuals and households have been coping by relocating, while at the national level constructing various sizes of drains has been key in addressing flood-related risks. Some members of the public contend that these coping strategies have not generally been effective in reducing the impact of floods on affected populations, properties and facilities.

So, how then can Ghana’s national flood disaster risk reduction and management strategies be best enhanced to ensure floods are prevented where possible, while interventions provided for community adaptation are made effective?

To this end, a consortium comprising Germany and Ghana-based institutions have been working together since July 2020 under the PARADeS project. It involves participatory assessment of flood-related disaster prevention and development of an adapted coping system in Ghana, aimed at contributing to enhancing Ghana’s national flood disaster risk reduction and management strategy.

The consortium is led by the team at the Chair of Forest and Environmental Policy of the University of Freiburg, Germany, in partnership with the West African Science Service Centre on Climate Change and Adapted Land Use (WASCAL), Water Resources Commission (WRC), National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO) Ghana, the Bundesamt für Bevölkerungsschutz und Katastrophenhilfe (BBK), and the Maria Sibylla Merian Institute for Advanced Studies in Africa (MIASA), University of Ghana, Legon.

The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funded the PARADeS project. It has so far collaborated with some metropolitan and district assemblies to investigate key mechanisms such as the drivers, pressures, status, impact, response as well as the existing flood risk management policies and nature of human-water interaction in flood-prone areas of Accra, Kumasi and the White Volta catchment areas of the Volta River Basin.

Following their findings, the consortium has modelled hydrological and flood scenarios, and developed action plans and products including flood information systems (FIS), community flood labelling and emergency response measures toward flood-disaster risk reduction and management in the three pilot areas.

These were presented at a two-day workshop on the 19th and 20th of April 2023 in Accra, to disseminate preliminary results and train trainers on the products. Participants at the workshop included the core team members from Germany and Ghana, as well as other relevant stakeholders including water resources managers, disaster-risk reduction outfits, civil engineers, physical planners and the media.

One significant result is the identification of potential damage from a flood hazard to critical infrastructure like power plants and communication information facilities, and how the risks cascade and impact power supply for hospitals and other sensitive infrastructure.

The workshop also marked a beginning for enhanced networking and intensified collaboration of the flood-risk community in Ghana for strengthened flood-prevention and effective response.

Later in an interview, leader of the Working Group on Ecohydrology in Water Resources Management and UNESCO Chair in Human Water Systems, Prof. Dr. Mariele Evers of the University of Bonn, explained that the Flood Information System is an all-inclusive package covering website content, leaflets and video-clips. “These will support experts and decision-makers in decision-making and identification of plausible effective measures,” she said, and noted that “by December 2023, the products will be handed over to the Ghana-based institutions”.

Dr. Evers added that the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research will be happy to see the publication of interesting research results and their application in Ghana.

The Director of Climate and Disaster Risks Reduction at NADMO, Mrs. Charlotte Norman, was particularly excited about the flood-labelling tool product of the PARADeS project. “It entails labelling houses in accordance with whether they are in danger from floods and the level of danger, whether they are resilient structures or not – so that people who go to live in those areas understand what risks they are taking,” she explained.

In an exclusive interview, Mrs. Norman described the labelling tool as “little baby steps we’re taking that will go a long way in contributing toward building a flood-resilient Ghana. Therefore, we’re looking at ways that encourage the Assemblies to adopt them, so that the tool will be useful not only in Accra but nationwide”.

She said the findings will serve as a two-edged sword for NADMO to implement objectives of the PARADeS project, and fulfil its organisational mandate of sensitising flood-endangered communities on the risks/hazards they face and encouraging them to move to safe areas.

The Chief Basin Officer of the WRC, Dr. Mawuli Lumor, expressed satisfaction with products from the project, as it has provided invaluable data and lessons that feed into the Commission’s mandate as regulator of fresh-water resources and coordinator of associated activities.

He said the major task is for the Ghana team to develop a dissemination plan that sensitises flood-prone communities on some of the key products – especially flood-labelling, to empower them in making decisions that will safeguard their lives, houses and property.

An Urban Planner with the Land Use and Spatial Planning Authority (LUSPA) and member of the Ghana Institution of Planners, Cecilia Acheampong, reiterated the importance of the project’s findings being very necessary for planners. “It will help us with planning in terms of urban and general land use, by providing us with data to plan and make decisions.”

From the model presented on buffer-zone protection, she is optimistic that: “If we are able to protect the buffers of water-bodies, infrastructure like bridges and other sensitive facilities will be protected. And this will impact positively on economies of the individual and the nation at large.”

For his part, Ign. Philip Samini of the Upper East Regional office of the Ghana Highway Authority praised the project’s results, saying: “The data generated, for instance on flood identification zones within the Volta Basin, are very good – and important for engineering design”.

He opined that a flood is not necessarily a bad event, so we can withstand it – and listed its advantages such as providing alluvia soils for crop production, and abundant water that fills reservoirs like the Akosombo Dam for sustainable hydro-power generation.

“So, what we need to do is manage our flood advantages and disadvantages together; and then we will have a lovely country. If we want to run away from floods, our engineering input must be appropriate – designing and constructing culverts, bridges, gutters – or large open drains and water reservoirs where they are required and can carry the volumes of water that come with extreme rainfall.”

Ign. Samini also called for the cessation of all forms of encroachment on forest and wildlife reserves, as they serve as rain-water catchment areas and therefore help reduce the incidence of floods.

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