Flooding in Greater Accra - Policy gaps, recommendations

Every time Accra is flooded, people talk about five things: the heavy rains, poor drainage, bad planning or lack of planning, structures built in watercourses, and the inability of the authorities to deal with the situation. 


The reasons for the flooding are well known and have been documented, but appropriate actions have not been taken. The Town and Country Planning Division (TCPD), now the Land Use and Spatial Planning Authority (LUPSA), prepared the 1958 Plan for Accra, which designated the low-lying areas along the Odaw River for public open space, agriculture and green belt in order to conserve these areas which are liable to flooding.

But over the years, hundreds of acres of open space and areas designated as “liable to flooding” have been converted into building plots, and developed. In 1973, a Drainage Committee, appointed by the National Liberation Council, recommended flood protection works, including the prohibition of the construction of buildings within one hundred feet on either bank of major drainage channels. The recommendations were not enforced.

In 1985, I came to Accra on a UNCHS-Habitat mission and prepared a project profile for the preparation of a structure plan for Accra. Later a full project document was prepared, and the TCPD produced the Strategic Plan for the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area, 1992.

It included thematic maps on seven drainage basins and flood-prone areas and a drainage plan, but it remained on the shelf.

In 2004, a Densu Basin Board was inaugurated to advise the Government on the management, and ecological stability of the Densu basin. A Riparian Buffer Zone Policy, cutting across thirteen local authority boundaries, was formulated. I am also not aware if the Densu Basin Board is functioning.

Four major policy gaps

Apart from the inactions identified above, there are policy gaps, as follows: First: There appears to be no lead body responsible for preparing drainage plans and managing floods.

The responsibilities are fragmented. Second: While past studies have focused on flooding within the Accra Region, flood control measures since 1992 have been carried out within local government jurisdictional boundaries.

This is not a good practice, because actions directed at controlling flooding of the Odaw River in Accra must go beyond local government jurisdictional boundaries and cover the entire drainage basin or catchment area of the Odaw River.

Third: A human factor in preventing the occurrence of flooding has been overlooked and not factored into the equation. Urban residents who live along the banks of rivers, streams and drainage channels, have not been educated about the issues involved. Consequently, there is indiscipline, ignorance and lack of civic pride and appreciation of clean water bodies.

Fourth: With regard to storm water management, I am not aware of areas which have been designated as “riparian zones” for riparian buffer planning, land use control and other measures which help to reduce sedimentation and flooding. 


The Government should consider establishing an Accra Region Conservation Authority (ARCA) to undertake the functions suggested below. Alternatively, if the Densu Basin Board (DBB) exists, it should perform the suggested functions:

(i) The ARCA or DBB should undertake storm water management studies covering the drainage basins in the Greater Accra Region – from the Densu River Catchment and Sakumo Lagoon in the west to Laloi Catchment in the east. This should be the functional area of the suggested ARCA, or the DBB.

(ii) The ARCA or DBB should prepare and implement a plan to include the designation of riparian zones, riparian buffer planning and management, the planting of trees, shrubs and grass, and land-use controls, in order to conserve streams, reduce soil erosion, minimise flooding downstream, and forestall the destructive impact of building construction and other incompatible land uses. 

(iii) ARCA or DBB functions should be carried out in close collaboration with the Land Use and Spatial Planning Authority and other stakeholders.

(iv) The suggested ARCA or the DBB should also design and implement a massive public awareness and education programme directed towards attitude change that would enable people to understand flood problems, and to see themselves as being part, not only of the problem, but also of the solution. 

The article is based on the writer’s experience as a former Asst. Chief Town Planning Officer, Ministry of Works & Housing, Ghana; Principal Planner, Land-Use Division, Metro Toronto Planning Board, Canada; and UN-Habitat Team Leader, Lakeshore Study, Malawi.

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