Floods in Ghana: The need to avert future disasters

Floods in Ghana: The need to avert future disasters

Once again the floods have subsided and suddenly all seem well with our city and life goes on as usual.

Nature has blessed Ghana with beautiful water bodies and land terrain which is supposed to drain itself especially during the rainy season.

This is known as wetlands and humans through rules and regulations have a duty to protect them.

Wetland is a generic term used to define the universe of wet habitants including marshes, swamps, bogs, fens, and seasonally waterlogged areas.

Wetlands include some of the most biologically and ecological important ecosystems on the face of the earth.

They include ecosystems that are periodically to permanently flooded with shallow water or have substrate saturated for some period during the growing season.

Wetland refers to all the different kinds of wet habitants- implying that it is land that is wet for some period of time, but not necessarily permanently wet.

Wetlands typically occur in topographic settings where surface water collects and (or) ground water discharges, making the area wet for extended periods of time.

The Ramsar Convention defines wetlands as “areas of marsh, fen, peat land or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salty, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six meters”.

Unfortunately, the Sakumono Ramsar sitein Ghana, with a total area of 1,365 hectares, has been encroached upon despite the joint effort of the Wildlife Division of the Forestry Commission and the Tema Development Cooperation to control the rate at which the wetland site has been invaded.

Wetlands serve as receptacles for excess water from river courses and rainfall, help create tree belt which serves as nature reserve for sustainable urban development. Such areas naturally serve as recreational grounds in cities, regenerating flora and fauna along river banks.

Rivers could enhance water transport within cities and ultimately reduce atmospheric heat.

On the contrary, wetlands have become an albatross around the neck of our cities; causing floods, killing innocent people, blocking roads and destroying property due to human activities.

Research by Scientists at CSIR- BRRI on wetlands revealed invasion by, housing, educational, religious and informal economic activities with all kinds of structures which eventually prevent free flow of water.

Such development disturb the ground water movement causing rising dump which has been a common occurrence in most buildings with its accompanying maintenance problems.

Accra witnessed the loss of about 154 lives with over 150 persons sustaining various degrees of burns after the Odo River overflowed its banks on 3 rd June, 2015 in one of the heavy disasters in Ghana’s History.

The Aboabo River over-flooded its banks and claimed about five lives in 27 th June, 2015. The most recent incident happened in 29 th July, 2018 when seven people were swept away by flood waters at Asabi in the Asokore Mampong Municipality and Aboabo after the River Sissa, overflowed its banks with affected areas including Sawaba, Aboabo, Anloga, Kwadaso, Tafo Sepe Boukrom, Dichemso (Airport- roundabout) and Asabi having a number of houses and major roads submerged following the downpour.

Protecting our low lying wetlands means the city authorities making deliberate attempts to create proper boundaries in approved planning layouts to prevent encroachment and illicit reclaiming of such lands for physical development.

Wetlands in Ghana are explicitly protected by the national building regulations, 1996, LI 1630, 13(2)—Site Requirements state clearly that, “No site liable to flooding shall be built upon without adequate provision for flood control”.

Regulation 20(2) further states that, “the subsoil of the site shall be effectively drained; or such other steps shall be taken to effectively protect the building against damage from moisture where the soil is waterlogged, damp or susceptible to seasonal flooding or periodic elevation of
the subsoil water-table during wet seasons”.

Unfortunately, enforcement of these laws has reduced to the barest minimum to the extent that “filling” of our wetlands for buildings has become order of the day followed by developments of all sizes in our cities.

There seem to be no lessons learnt from the previous disasters such that no drastic action have been taken to prevent future grievous ‘human disasters’.

Rigrous enforcement of laws to protect wetlands has countries like Kenya “tear down illegal upmarket mall” and other buildings on the Nairobi River Wetlands in August, 2018 at the government’s request through Kenya’s Environmental Agency.

Reports by BBC News stated that bold initiative to save Kenya’s wetlands affected plush homes and shopping malls including over 4,000 buildings and Ukay Centre’s $9m property, as well as punishment for those who gave the go-ahead for these wetlands to be developed.

City authorities in Ghana including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should collaborate with MMDAs to ensure that haphazard unapproved development of wetlands are stopped with immediate effect and existing buildings on waterways demolished to allow water to flow without interference.

Property developers must consult the right built environment professionals to design befitting buildings as spelt out in the national building regulations, 1996, LI 1630 to turn our wetlands into a blessing – not curse- for a sustainable development of our motherland, Ghana.

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