By: Emmanuel Akumun
Due to rapid urbanisation and a growing population, the global generation of waste is increasing at an alarming rate. Of particular concern is the escalating issue of plastic waste. The widespread use of plastic as a crucial resource has led to a myriad of environmental challenges. The contamination of our oceans is just one consequence, as cities are also grappling with significant problems - flooding, stemming from plastics and improper waste management.
In Accra, a menace known as flooding is unleashing its fury. With every heavy downpour, the city transforms into a watery labyrinth, streets becoming rivers and homes marooned in the deluge. While rain may seem like a natural occurrence, the truth is that Accra's frequent and devastating floods have a less natural culprit - improper waste management.
In Ghana, the climate is characterised by two distinct seasons: the rainy season, extending from April to October in the Southern region and from April to mid-October in the Northern region, and the dry season, known as "Harmattan." Unfortunately, the rainy season brings about significant and preventable losses for Ghana's residents each year due to flooding.
In an effort to understand the causes and impacts of these seasonal floods and identify potential solutions, the Young Reporters for the Environment conducted an investigation. Here's what our findings revealed.
The Causes: Where Waste Meets Water
Accra's struggle with flooding can be traced back to a series of interconnected causes that stem from improper waste management practices. In Accra's urban areas, the production of municipal solid waste (MSW) is substantial. It is estimated that around 760,000 tons of MSW are generated annually, equivalent to approximately 2,000 metric tons per day, as reported by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These figures are conservative estimates, and the actual quantities are likely to be even higher. Looking ahead, the EPA projects a significant escalation in MSW generation by 2025. It is anticipated that the annual amount of MSW in Accra will surge to approximately 1.8 million tons, or roughly 4,000 metric tons per day and Accra’s Waste Management Department is only able to collect 60% of the waste generated.
Within the Accra metropolitan area, there are eight primary drains that experience frequent flooding, leading to the displacement and hardship of over 1,000 people. These affected neighbourhoods include Mateheko, Nima, Tesano, Kaneshie, Mukose, Mampon Stream, Chemu Stream, and Dzorwulu. Additionally, Sukura experiences particularly severe flooding. The consequences of these recurring floods are profound, resulting in immense human suffering and a host of related issues. The impact extends to the outbreak of diseases, such as epidemics, which pose a significant threat to public health. The overall well-being of communities is compromised, leading to heightened stress levels and disruptions to both commercial and daily activities. The devastating effects of flooding are far-reaching, causing significant setbacks to the affected neighbourhoods and hindering their progress and development.
Throughout Ghana, open gutters are a common sight, even in supposedly affluent neighbourhoods. The lack of proper waste management is evident as refuse accumulates on the sides of roads and in these open gutters. Surprisingly, public dustbins are a rarity on the streets, even in the capital city of Accra, worsening the problem. When the rainy season arrives, the consequences of this improper waste disposal become painfully clear. The choked gutters are unable to handle the heavy rainfall, leading to overflow and the transformation of rainwater into destructive floods. Accra, the bustling capital city, has gained notoriety for being particularly susceptible to these flooding incidents.
Case Study: Kaneshie Market
At Kaneshie, a busy market area and also home to many transport stations that shuttle travellers to and from the capital, discarded packaging materials and plastic bags often find their way into the drains. During heavy rains, these drains fail to cope with the excessive water volume, transforming the market into a waterlogged disaster zone. The stagnant water not only disrupts business operations but also poses health risks to the traders and customers.
“The government should do something about the Kaneshie floods because it is destroying our properties and the market. Kiosk stores are collapsing and materials are spoiling” said Maame Akua, a trader at the market. “I have sold about 28 years here in Kaneshie. When little rain pours, Kaneshie will be flooding. Kaneshie needs help from the Government” she added.
Reduced Water Absorption:
Improper disposal of organic waste, such as food scraps and vegetation, disrupts the natural water absorption capacity of the soil. This results in increased surface runoff, overwhelming drainage systems, and further contributing to flooding.
Case Study: Korle Lagoon
The Korle Lagoon, located in Accra, Ghana, has tragically transformed into one of the most heavily polluted water bodies on the planet. Serving as the primary outlet for major drainage channels across the city, it acts as a conduit for the discharge of waste into the sea. The lagoon has suffered immensely from the unchecked release of untreated industrial waste into surface drains, resulting in significant pollution and the disruption of its natural ecological balance. The adverse impacts on the lagoon's ecosystem have been severe, leaving a distressing mark on this once-vibrant waterway. Accra's Waste Management Department faces a significant challenge, as it is able to collect only 60% of the waste generated on a daily basis. This leaves a substantial portion of the waste unattended, leading to improper disposal practices such as dumping in open spaces, surface drains, and even water bodies, ultimately finding their way into the Korle Lagoon. As a consequence, the lagoon has experienced elevated eutrophication levels, indicating excessive nutrient buildup in its shallow waters. The outcome is particularly troubling, as even the slightest downpour causes the lagoon to overflow its banks, triggering recurrent flooding in various parts of the city. The inadequate waste management system's detrimental impact on the Korle Lagoon not only worsens environmental degradation but also contributes significantly to the ongoing issue of urban flooding in Accra.
Poor Waste Collection in Informal Settlements:
Waste collection in Ghana is a multifaceted and intricate issue that has garnered significant attention from various stakeholders, including successive governments, local authorities, and international actors. Many informal settlements in Accra lack proper waste collection services, compelling residents to resort to unregulated waste disposal methods. This accumulation of waste in water bodies obstructs natural water flow, intensifies flood risks, and disproportionately affects vulnerable communities. In recent years, waste collection has emerged as a top priority on the national agenda. One of the major challenges lies in the inadequacy of existing public facilities, including sanitary facilities, to effectively serve the growing population. The sheer volume of municipal solid waste, encompassing collection, transportation, and disposal, poses a significant challenge. Insufficient resources, such as waste collection vehicles, compactors, and heavy equipment, further compound the problem. As a result, existing resources are often insufficient to cover informal settlements, compromising the effectiveness of waste collection efforts.
Case Study: Old Fadama (Agbogbloshie)
Old Fadama, one of Accra's largest informal settlements, faces significant challenges related to waste management. The lack of waste collection services forces residents to dispose of waste in nearby water bodies, worsening flooding during heavy rains and leaving them particularly vulnerable to the impacts of flooding. The dire living conditions and health hazards faced by the residents further underline the urgent need for improved waste management practices.
The Impacts: A Deluge of Destruction
Floods have become a perennial concern in the country. Many lives are lost annually, with several properties destroyed as a result of flood. The consequences of improper waste management and the resulting flooding are far-reaching, affecting various aspects of Accra's social, economic, and environmental fabric.
Loss of Lives and Property:
Each flooding event claims lives and leads to extensive damage to homes, infrastructure, and businesses. People lose their livelihoods, and the economic toll of rebuilding is substantial. Vulnerable communities are hit the hardest, as they often lack resources to recover from such disasters. According to a report on natural disasters and hazards in Ghana, Flood is number two after epidemics with regards to loss of lives. About 409 people out of almost 3.9 million affected people have been killed between 1968-2014 as a result of flood events. The total cost of the flood was estimated to be USD $116,340.22 according to the National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO) report in 2010.
Case Study: Odawna Market Fire and Flood Disaster
In June 2015, heavy rains and flooding in Accra led to a devastating fire outbreak at the Odawna Market. The combination of fuel, electrical sparks, and flooded conditions resulted in a catastrophic inferno, claiming over 150 lives, destroying countless businesses and affecting more than 50,000 people. The tragedy highlighted the interconnectedness of waste management and public safety. The cost of the damage was estimated at GH¢242 million or $55 million.
Public Health Hazards:
Stagnant floodwater becomes a breeding ground for disease-carrying mosquitoes, increasing the risk of malaria, dengue fever, and other waterborne illnesses. Contamination of water sources further exacerbates public health risks, leaving communities vulnerable to outbreaks.
Case Study: Cholera OutbreaksAccra has experienced recurring cholera outbreaks, often linked to inadequate waste management and flooding. In 2014, a cholera outbreak affected over 20,000 people in Accra. Contaminated flood water, poor sanitation, and lack of access to clean water created a perfect breeding ground for the disease, highlighting the urgent need for improved waste management practices.
Displacement and Social Disruption:
Flooding forces communities to evacuate, displacing families and disrupting their daily lives. Access to clean water, sanitation facilities, healthcare, and education becomes severely compromised, exacerbating social inequalities.
Case Study: Adabraka
Adabraka is notorious for flooding with the least rainfall, especially Official Town, Odawna and surrounding areas. Most residents of Adabraka Sahara, a community close to the Odaw river usually have a tough time navigating through floodwaters to safety following downpours. During floods, residents are forced to abandon their homes and seek refuge elsewhere. The disruption to their lives, loss of personal belongings, and limited access to essential services takes a toll on their overall well-being. The cycle of displacement and recovery further perpetuates poverty and hampers community development.
The Way Forward:
Navigating Towards ResilienceTo mitigate the devastating impact of improper waste management on flooding, concerted efforts and multifaceted strategies are required:
Strengthening Waste Collection and Disposal Infrastructure: Investment in robust waste collection systems, including regular and efficient trash collection, recycling programs, and designated disposal sites, is crucial. Though the Accra Compost and Recycling Plant has an 80% waste recovery rate and a capacity to handle 400 tonnes of solid waste on a sixteen (16) hour shift, it is evident that, that alone can not meet the waste processing needs of the city, calling for private sector involvement and investment in waste management and processing facilities. By removing waste from streets and water bodies, the risk of drainage blockage and subsequent flooding can be significantly reduced.
Public Awareness and Education:
Education regarding waste management must be prioritised and pursued diligently by all stakeholders, including sanitary inspectors. It is crucial to emphasise to the public that waste should be seen as a formidable threat to their very survival. Waste management encompasses a range of activities, including the deliberate and systematic control of waste generation, storage, collection, transportation, separation, processing, recycling, recovery, and disposal. These activities must be carried out in a sanitary, aesthetically acceptable, and cost-effective manner. Encouraging recycling, composting, and proper waste segregation at the household level can instil a culture of cleanliness and environmental stewardship. Education should extend to schools, community centres, and public spaces to reach a wider audience.
Improved Urban Planning and Drainage Systems:
Integrating flood-resistant infrastructure into urban planning is vital. Constructing and maintaining well-designed drainage systems, flood retention ponds, and green spaces that enhance water absorption can mitigate flood risks. Incorporating sustainable urban drainage systems (SUDS) and permeable pavements can help manage stormwater effectively.
Government Policies and Regulations:
Enforcing existing waste management regulations in a stringent manner, along with penalties for non-compliance, can drive businesses, industries, and individuals to adopt responsible waste disposal practices. Engaging with stakeholders, including waste management companies, to ensure compliance and support sustainable waste management initiatives is critical.
Accra's battle against flooding necessitates a united front. By recognizing the dire consequences of improper waste management, implementing sustainable waste management practices, and fostering a sense of environmental responsibility, Accra can chart a course toward a safer, more resilient future. It is through collaborative efforts, involving government, community, and individuals, that Accra can mitigate the devastating impacts of flooding, protect lives and property, and create a sustainable and vibrant city for generations to come.