27 October 2011

Eating the Elephant

Last year August, a fellow blogger published a post entitled, “ACCRA WILL FLOOD AGAIN NEXT YEAR!” Well, it’s next year, and it’s flooding.  Pictures on the front page of the nation’s newpapers are congested with images of flood victims: houses and cars submerged, a man clinging to a floating tree, the young woman killed by a collapsing wall while she slept. In fact, flooding has been making headlines across the globe.   We’ve looked at the pictures and we’ve watched the clips, shaking our heads as parts of Southeast Asia, Nigeria, Myanmar, and Dominica have been swept away by rivers and rising tides of muddy water.  And that's just October.

What does the World Meteorological Association say?  Floods result from a combination of meteorological and hydrological extremes, but are additionally influenced by human factors.   There are land-use changes (like urbanization and deforestation).  Occupation of the flood plain.  Inefficiency or non-maintenance of infrastructure, and inefficient drainage.  From global climate change to the urban microclimate, precipitation events are enforced by people.  And then there is Accra, just like Dhaka and Ibadan.  A heavily populated city with an inadequate waste management system that is reliant on open concrete drainage channels – which become clogged and overflow with rubbish during flooding.  Shall I break it down for you some more?  People throw rubbish in channels because there is nowhere else to throw it.  People use channels as toilets, because in many areas there is no public sanitation.  Add in the weather this week, and it's just disastrous.  In case you're starting to wonder, this isn't a preview to the end of days.  This is what comes from too much rain and too little infrastructure.  And here comes the cholera.
So did I mention rivers of muddy water before? Let’s amend that. 
Muddy water and rubbish.

With Accra's floods this week, there have been no formal reports of casualties by government agencies - although Ghanaians are reporting slightly higher numbers to local radio stations and newspapers. One person was reportedly electrocuted when he attempted to rescue his refrigerator from flood waters (Government officials do acknowledge that electrocution is a serious concern). A resident of a low-lying area, Adabraka, a “physically challenged” man, also is reported dead.  Kwame Nkrumah circle, the major roundabout in Accra, is underwater. Cars are overturned. And again, last night, it started raining. It didn’t stop until early this morning.

How to fix this situation?  Civil engineers, environmentalists and researchers in Ghana are happy to offer solutions, from the mundane to the innovative.  Mandatory rain gutters on houses and other structures.  Underground piping.  A reliable waste disposal system and a recycling programme.  And, of course, a ban on even thinking about building any more open drainage channels.  I’m going to borrow this African proverb, as cited by E.B. Danquah:“The best way to eat the elephant standing in your path is to cut it up into little pieces."  Right now, in the midst of severe flooding, it’s the elephant in the path - or the road - that we see first.  It's enormous.  The sentiments being passed around the people's table are of anger and frustration and fear.  If you're sitting at the big boy's table, perhaps on that committee that was supposed to have solved Ghana's infrastructure issues, you're probably busy trying to point to another elephant into the room.  It's all about distraction and deflection.      
flooded road in Accra
Recent presidents have promised to solve the flooding problem, including Mills.  So far, no one has seen much in the way of follow-through.  Well, I am thrilled to report that the Accra Metropolitan Assembly announced 23 hours ago that it would be “solving the drainage problem.”  Indeed, “the AMA says it will require 500 million dollars to fix the drainage problem in the metropolis…President Mills promised to support the AMA to raise the necessary resources to fix the drainage situation in Accra. He shared in the plight of those who have lost their property to the floods…"  Then my favorite part: "President Mills said the situation where a few people disregard the law with impunity and build on water ways must stop.”  Pointing at another elephant, I guess.  Shall we say hallelujah for a crisis firmly in hand?  Just like Obama, Mills is now under the umbrella of Election Countdown.  The Days of Political Pressure and Propoganda have come (if they were ever really gone).  Talk about end of days.  We’ll see if he survives the weather. 

I wonder if I should have used my backup title for this posting, though..."Accra Will Flood Again Next Year!"

1 comment:

  1. Within your lifetime (circa 1980) North America was 370 million population - Africa was around 470. In 2005 NA was 510 and Africa 890.
    Africa can't do a lot about climate change, but it has to take the lead in the improving its water and land management, building standards and public health monitoring.