The rains that come and the tears that flow


In sovereign Ghana, the smiles and joy exhibited by farmers at the onset of rains every year are better witnessed than being told. For the over 52% of the population that is into farming (FAO) this is an answer to their prayers when the rains begin to fall as early as March, as they anticipate a new farming season which is mostly rainfall dependent. 

Notwithstanding farmers smiles and joy associated with the start of the rains, for major city dwellers in Ghana this is the time some tears flow particularly because of associated flooding that accompanies the rains. Believe it or not, flooding is one of the deadliest types of severe weather events. There’s probably a lot about floods and flooding people don’t know. A flood is an overflow of water that submerges usually dry land. Floods can look very different, covering anything from a few inches of water to several feet of water.

They can also come on quickly or build gradually. There are five types of floods; river floods, coastal floods, inland floods, flash floods, and storm surges. For this article I will concentrate my arguments on the inland flood; that is flooding that occurs inland (typically examples are what major cities like Accra and Kumasi experiences) either through steady rainfall over several days or because of a short and intense period of rainfall.

There is no denying the fact that, sovereign Ghana has a serious flood problem with consequent economic damage, health risk, food shortage, etc. Many connoisseurs in the environment have argued that in Ghana’s urban areas, like Accra and Kumasi, floods are mostly triggered by seasonal rainfall combined with poor drainage, the dumping of waste into waterways, and the low elevation of settlements.

Much as their views are valid, often times they fail to appreciate the “missing links in our built cities when it comes to flooding. Inland floods are often worse in our cities like Accra and Kumasi particularly because there isn’t anywhere for the water to go once it starts to rain. A major missing link associated with flooding in our cities is the increasing and proliferate number of paved houses and offices.

Paved houses and offices vis-à-vis grassed/greened houses and offices.

Paved houses and offices (made of concretes and tiles etc.) in low capacity drainage cities are deadly. Under such conditions, because the surfaces are sealed, there is an increase in the amount and speed of water flowing overland during and after prolonged or heavy rainfall. Urban runoff typically flows into drainage systems for storm-water, which may not be able to handle large volumes of water, potentially leading to flooding in the area (the current situation of our cities is dire particularly because of low capacity drainage systems).

On the contrary, grassed/greened houses and offices mitigate against flooding, as raindrops which land on trees either evaporate to the air or drip down to the ground below, where it percolates into the soil. Surface water from nearby areas can also flow into the permeable area around the trees, which further increases the amount of water that can soak away and reduces demand on storm-water drains.

Having more grass cover in urban areas would reduce the risk of flooding, particularly when the underlying soil has not been compacted. Under such conditions, the grass absorbs most of the water for further percolation into the underlying soil. It is important to mention that, all the above has been scientifically studied and proven, and yet it is a missing link in our city development. Another critical missing link is about strategies.

Reactive vis-à-vis Proactive Strategies

Reactive countries are those that respond to some unanticipated event only after it occurs, while proactive countries are those who anticipate possible challenges and therefore plan ahead of time. There is no denying the fact that countries that emphasize proactive strategies are usually more effective at dealing with such challenges. Ghana as a sovereign nation can best be described as a flood reactive nation rather than being proactive.

Oftentimes, the government uses coping strategies that are expensive, and which doesn’t deal with the underlying risks when it comes to flooding of our major cities. After every flood (where there are loss of lives and properties), the National Disaster Management Organization (NADMO) and other government-allied agencies like the Fire Service, Police, and Military are deployed for rescue and emergency relief.

As a perpetual annual ordained activity, soul loving Ghanaians allow tears to flow for lost lives and properties, media houses create the usual issue attention for days and importantly, the government then clears waterways (temporary and/or partially), repairs damaged drains and/or infrastructure, and demolishes properties built close to drainage systems and/or waterways (typically, only for the period without long term plans).

Lives and properties have been and are being lost for decades with no solution in sight. The situation looks gloomy moving ahead particularly because, climate change prediction models indicate that from now to the year 2050, wet seasons will get wetter and the dry seasons drier. Accordingly, we must be well prepared for more rains, unlearn our old ways, and learn new things based on proactiveness for the future.

The government of Ghana must consciously evolve from coping strategies to proactive, long-term measures. It is important to mention that, any proactive measure for the long term may seem expensive now but the net cost gain for the future can never be quantified. We must, therefore, be prepared to undertake amongst others, research-based studies towards building sustainable cites wherein there would be:

1. Proactive strategies aimed at improving the natural environment; for example protecting and expanding wetlands in our cities so that vegetation at such places will slow and absorbs flood waters, creating riparian buffer zones that protect and restore rivers and lagoons.

2. Proactive structural flood protection mechanism such as high capacity storm drains constructed to protect all at risk areas of our cities.

3. Importantly, there should be strict planning and implementable policies in our cities to forestall construction in flood-prone areas either by the rich and/or poor where applicable. Also, there should be a strategic plan for government to buy out at-risk properties that have been constructed on waterways.

If our farmers can pray for the rains with smiles, and tears will need not flow from our city dwellers, then we must all arise and build mother Ghana. We surely can make our nation great and strong.

Let’s all say no to floods once and for all now with commitment to act and be responsible.

Let’s all remember that, life can never be recreated – today someone is gone, tomorrow it can be you.

Stop the floods!!!

Prosper Kwame Antwi (Conservation Scientist, A Rocha Ghana)

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