It is amazing that part of our collective psyche will be praying that the rains get even heavier in Ghana, so that the Volta Lake may fill up and deliver power to our homes. Yet, on the other hand, the more sympathetic souls amongst us will be mourning with those who have lost their relatives or dwelling places to the recent floods.
It is unbelievably ironic that while we in Ghana are experiencing periodic electricity outages due to load-shedding caused by the fact that our Akosombo hydro-electric dam is not being fed with enough rainfall, there have been floods in Accra that have killed at least seven people and destroyed hundreds of homes.
“Water, water everywhere, and ne’er a drop in our dam!” the Ancient Mariner would have cried. The Ancient Mariner is a character in a very long poem I had to study for my “O” Level English Literature paper entitled The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
The Nigerians have a quaint way of reacting to a situation like that. They would say: “We are laughing and crying!” I am told Fela Anikulapo Kuti has immortalised this saying in one of his beautiful songs.
Yeah, it is amazing that part of our collective psyche will be praying that the rains get even heavier, so that the Volta Lake may fill up and deliver power to our homes. Yet, on the other hand, the more sympathetic souls amongst us will be mourning with those who have lost their relatives or dwelling places to the floods.
It all goes to show that we shouldn’t be relying too much on goodwill from nature in order to ensure for ourselves, the provision of certain basic services, such as the supply of electricity and the provision of affordable and safe housing.
The Accra floods problem is even more difficult to tackle than the power outages. Flood relief affects human beings and they are difficult to deal with. Even if the Ghana government were able to build new houses – quickly – for those affected, some might not like to be uprooted from the localities where they have presumably spent all their lives.
If you have never moved to a new locality from an old, beloved habitat before, you may think it is an easy option. The trouble is that a home is not just brick and mortar and pieces of wood or iron sheets. A home is the psychological base from which one relates to the rest of humanity, and since we were created to live together and not by ourselves, losing a place where we have established roots affects us deeply. We may not be aware of it ourselves, but if we went to see a psychiatrist, he would tell us that we have suffered a “trauma” as a result of moving.
But I didn’t need a psychiatrist to tell me I had suffered a trauma when my birthplace was razed to the ground to make way for a new road. I never felt the same again when I went back to my town. There was something missing from my spirits and I avoided the place to such an extent that my father noticed it and made a special plea to me to go there more often. He had built a new house with the compensation money paid to him, but I couldn’t relate to it and in fact I have never slept in the place – till this day.
For how could the new place remind me of the window through which my first girlfriend used to climb and visit me at night? She did this because one of my grandmothers was a busybody who never went to bed early but sat by the fire in the yard and yakked and yakked and yakked – sometimes all by herself.
I am sure she would have subjected my beloved to an impromptu interview in which the poor young lady would have had to answer irrelevant questions about who her mother and father were; what food she had eaten that evening and – most probably – when she last had her bath. Or even whether she wore a “danger flag”, or panties. I wouldn’t call that sort of quizzing exactly the best prelude to an amorous date, would you?
I had such an affinity to my bedroom that when it was razed to the ground, I felt as if part of my own body had been trampled upon by the earthmoving machines that built the new road. This was the room in which I burnt candles at night, trying to get to grips with the “O” Level syllabus. It was now the playground of motor vehicle tyres.
Also uprooted and squashed to death was the sweet-smelling cinnamon tree at the back of the house which gave me a special status with the girls in my class. They liked to chew its twigs and use its leaves to perfume the shea butter with which they oiled their skins, and if I brought them some from home, they would giggle coquettishly at me and give me “nkate-cake” (peanut cakes). All those memories were gone, together with the tree.
And what about the tall orange trees – the one that produced ordinary oranges and the one that gave us those sweet tangerines? These also enabled me to pose as some sort of “benefactor” to girls and boys alike. Then, there was the short, easy-to-climb coconut tree, whose milk was as sweet as honey. And best of all, the exotic guava tree and its allegedly “dangerous” fruit that produced guinea-worm if you picked up a rotten one and ate it.
Oh, and the carpenter’s shed a few yards away from home, where I used to nick scrap wood to make the wheels of my water-carrying “lorry”; the Salvation Army park where I had broken my leg many times playing football; the akonkordier tree a quarter of a mile away, where we tussled in our minds with the fear of the mmoatia (dwarves) that supposedly dwelt beneath them.
And the bridge under which we hunted bats. All had vapourised into tarmac. And yet I was supposed to call the place “home”? No way. The place was pain; and excruciating pain felt at the most visceral level – within the subconscious.
So, what I would plead with the Ghanaian authorities to do is to embark on flood-prevention measures on a huge scale. The engineers at the Accra-Tema city engineer’s office must have drawings of flood-control measures, never implemented, yellowing in files all over their offices. All they need is to pick them up and update them. And then be given the funding to carry out the projects.
We must start somewhere, though I must confess the task seems immensely daunting. One day, whilst driving through Nima, an Accra ghetto, the thought struck me: what would we do if a fire ever broke out there? The “houses” (hovels, actually) built so closely together and so many people crowded into them? That such a calamity hasn’t happened yet proves how merciful God is. He has given us time to do something to prevent a disaster. But are we using that time?
With all this in mind, I was extremely pleased to read this item published by the Ghana News Agency:
“The Ghana Institution of Engineers has called for the development of a master drainage plan for cities and towns in order to curb the spate of floods. It also called on the government to empower the existing Hydrological Services Division under the Ministry of Water Resource, Works and Housing, to have an oversight responsibility of co-coordinating and approving all drainage schemes.
“This responsibility, [the institution] said, should cover schemes planned by various agencies such as local governments, road, utility agencies and real estate developers.
“Speaking at a press briefing in Accra on the perennial floods in the city, Dr Essel Hagan, president of the institution, said there was the need to undertake emergency measures by opening up all existing drainage channels.
“On 2-3 June this year, Accra West experienced floods and seven lives were lost and several properties destroyed… According to
Dr Hagan, the worst forms of floods which used to hit Accra East area in the past, had shifted to Accra West and [he] attributed that to some recommendations the institution had put forward earlier.
“Dr Hagan said the institution never anticipated any forms of floods in [the new] areas [currently affected]. The maximum rainfall figure recorded in Accra on 2-3 June was 60.1 millimetres, which was, comparatively, the lowest of the maximum figures recorded in Accra since 2001. [So] the floods that [had just] occurred could not be attributed to natural causes but to human activities. [These included] the development of physical structures within waterways; deposition of solid and plastic waste in drains; and inappropriate drainage structures… Other causes were lack of co-ordination among [the] agencies involved in the planning, design and implementation of drainage schemes, [as well as] rapid changes in the land-use pattern, resulting in higher volumes of run-offs.
“Dr Hagan recommended the provision of adequate funds in the development of [a] budget for the implementation of drainage projects, and [the] political will to execute drainage projects. [He pledged that] the Ghana Institution of Engineers was ready to support the government in formulating policies [to] design and implement the necessary interventions to address the perennial floods in Accra and the entire country. He called on municipal and metropolitan assemblies and the media to step up more educational programmes to educate the public to desist from building on waterways.
“Kwabena Safo-Debrah, the immediate past president [of the institution], stressed the need to put up waste bins at vantage points to reduce littering in the metropolis. He urged the public to … avoid throwing waste in drains. We can put up the best drainage system but if we continue to dispose our waste in them, the floods would continue to be with us," he added.
The rest, as they say, is “over to you, our government”.