While Ghana mourns over 150 people who died in a fire amid heavy flooding, emergency services have been caring for survivors. But will the city address underlying problems such as faulty construction?
Over 150 people died in the fire at a petrol station in Accra on Wednesday (03.06.2015) which has been linked to heavy rains that hit Ghana's capital this week. The country's president, John Mahama, has now called for three days of national mourning. DW spoke to Mohammed Alhassan from Ghana's country planning office to find out how authorities are coping in the aftermath of the tragedy.
DW: How would you assess the response of the emergency services and the city itself?
Mohammed Alhassan: The response has been good. We had people directly on the ground doing the evacuation and trying to gather the necessary information for further investigations. We have another group that is also on the ground ensuring that more havoc is not caused and that structures that are stopping the flow of water are removed. We also have another group that is involved in doing the research and providing the background information on how these events occurred and how they have been handled.
Are you expecting further rainfall or is it just flood water from the past days that you're concerned about?
We have been getting information from the meteorological department and the indication is that we should expect more rain. That means if nothing is done immediately we will have more disasters. So we are spreading information on how people can keep themselves safe. Most schools in the city are closed today. The people have been asked to stay at home for their own safety. Many would anyway have difficulties in travelling to work and have also been advised to stay at home. And emergency services such as the military and the National Disaster Management Organization are also on the ground, removing debris, like cars that were swept into large open drains.
The rains come every year. Why was their impact so severe this time?
Flooding in the city of Accra has almost become an annual affair but in terms of planning, adequate work has been done. The challenge is the pace of the implementation. For example, Accra is drained by nine major rivers basins and so during heavy rainfall, we have a lot of run-off. Given the fast rate of urbanization, we now have a lot of impervious structures, meaning that the water cannot run off as it used to. One of the major proposals that we have at the moment concerns retention basins that will retain a lot of the run-off when the need arises. The plan also provides a program for desilting major drains and removing material in the drains, but this has not been done up to now.
What are the immediate measures the city needs to take to avoid further damage from the flooding?
I think we need to clear all structures that are impeding run-off flows immediately. These include residential buildings as well as any others. What also needs to be done, is to remove the debris and all the material that is making it difficult for the water to flow off. We can also dredge some of the lagoons which are heavily silted. The last check I did showed that seven of our lagoons were storing about 70,000 tonnes of silt. This has to be removed immediately. In the long-term we have to look at the drainage infrastructure. We have a lot of drains that have been ill-designed, so that they are unable to carry the water. Last but not least, we have to see to some reforms in the work that our local government authorities do, to ensure that they do a thorough job, because there is some evidence that they grant permits for developments that are not in the interest of the general public.
Mohammed Al Hassan is a senior town planning officer of the Ghana country planning department.
Interview: Sella Oneko