Climate change is not the culprit

BY: Elizabeth Ohene
The flooding in Accra has nothing to do with climate change

I notice that there is a concerted effort to educate us in this country about various cities and countries that have had floods recently. Government spokespersons have embarked upon a pincer movement strategy to dominate the airwaves with information on floods around the world. 

We are being told there are floods in Germany, Australia, Austria and even the quintessential beautiful city of Paris has been under water. Indeed things got so bad in Paris that the city authorities shut the doors to the famous museum, the Louvre. 

In other words, we are being told flooding is a current international phenomenon; it is happening everywhere and if Accra floods, it is not a big deal. Or at least, if Accra floods, we should see it from a proper perspective. Famous ancient cities with excellent drainage are being flooded and the suggestion seems to be we in Ghana are making too much of the recent flooding in Accra. 

Believe in climate change

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The President of the Republic himself weighed in with his invocation of climate change and a further meteorological lesson on how many millimetres of rain had fallen in Accra within a particular 24-hour period. 

I must say I was relieved to hear our President even mention climate change because I was beginning to fear he belonged to those who are climate change deniers. This is the man who in giving a State of the Nation address, would not even mention a drought that was wreaking havoc on our country. The rains had failed, the water levels in our dams had fallen catastrophically, crops had withered and we were faced with the prospect of food shortages. Plantains have disappeared and what little you can find is being sold at astronomical prices and the President couldn’t bring himself to stating the obvious. 

Since it was not likely that even we the perennial complaining Ghanaians could blame our President for the drought, I had to conclude that President Mahama was so intent on finding and telling only the good stories that he wouldn’t or couldn’t say that there was a drought. 

He could so very easily have invoked climate change; there couldn’t have been any better evidence to explain the fall in the water level in the Akosombo dam and the consequent difficulties of the Volta River Authority in generating electricity. Last Monday the water level was 236.05 feet, less than a foot short of the minimum level it had ever been. 

I concluded, therefore, that he did not believe in climate change. After all, he would be in good company; Donald Trump, Sara Palin, Jeremy Clarkson, to name but a few. 

 Is climate change the cause of floods?

Now here we are suddenly with the President blaming climate change for the flooding in Accra. Not quite so fast, Mr President. There has been absolutely nothing extraordinary about the amount of rainfall we have had in Accra recently. 

Indeed, there are many people about the same age or younger than the President who can recall heavier and more persistent rainfall in June and who would have noticed that the month of May was drier than usual. I suspect the meteorological data would back up my assertion. We cannot in one breath pretend the drought we had was normal and not worth commenting upon because it was an inconvenient truth and then seek to blame a day’s rainfall on climate change. 

What is more, climate change is not a phenomenon that appears and disappears. When the President has been making claims these past four years about solving the drainage and flooding problem of Accra, climate change was always a known reality. 

There is nothing to show that we have done what needs to be done about the drainage problems in Accra so that we can blame flooding on climate change. When silt and garbage is removed from gutters and the Odaw and is left by the sides, it is unrealistic to imagine that the problem of clogged drains has been solved. It only takes one heavy rain for all the silt to be swept right back into the gutters and canals. 

No infrastructure development 

When there are mounds of rubbish piled on the sides of canals and gutters and the Metropolitan Chief Executive of Accra boasts to us that he has solved the flooding problem, he was not only tempting fate, he was showing gross disrespect to us the inhabitants. 

If it hadn’t rained four days after his claims, Mayor Oko Vanderpuije would have got away with his preposterous claims. As it turned out, the rains have once again exposed us and our capital city for what we truly are: primitive and unprepared for emergencies. 

The rains have shown that any talk of infrastructure development is so much hogwash. I have said it and it bears repeating, unless and until we build the sewage, build the drains and cover the gutters, it is a criminal waste of money to pretend to be building flyovers. Modern cities are built from below and on the ground before going up. Such work is not sexy and does not make attractive headlines, but it is the only way to build the infrastructure of our country and ensure durability. 

Then we can survive rainfall without the current mass nervousness that engulfs the city each time the clouds darken. These days, once it starts raining in Accra, people start calling their friends and relations to make sure they are safe. Rain has become a source of danger instead of being a source of joy. Once upon a time, children used to be allowed outside to stand and play in the rain; today we hold our breaths and wait to count fatalities after each rainfall. 

And by the way, Mr President, the population of Accra did not turn four million the night before the rains. I don’t know if anybody in authority has driven on the Accra-Tema motorway recently, surely it couldn’t have been missed that there are kiosks almost on the motorway and there are new houses being constructed closer and closer to the motorway. 

When the inevitable disaster strikes in that area, it wouldn’t be climate change, and we wouldn’t find anything similar that would have occurred in Austria.  And by the way, if the President’s spokespersons are going to dare to compare Accra to Paris, they might point out that the Louvre did not get flooded and the famous paintings did not get soaked and the curators then started trying to salvage them; they got prepared for the floods and took away the paintings to safety and closed the Louvre. There has been no sign of that in Accra.

Climate change is real and is already having devastating effects on our environment. There are many practices that accelerate these effects; the denuding of our forests and destruction of our water bodies are good examples. Clogged drains, choked gutters, houses built on watercourses that cause flooding do not qualify to be cited as evidence of climate change. The flooding in Accra has nothing to do with climate change. 

The President and his officials should try and find another and better excuse for the incompetence of the government. They are giving climate change a bad name and recruiting members for the climate change deniers brigade.