This is not a political article, I am writing this sarcastically but as a sustainability professional and environmentalist.
The post will study the context of the situation and look at the challenges of the project before offering a sustainable and more suitable approach that should have been.
This project was by honourable Mrs Ursla Owusu Ekuful Minister of Communications and Member of Parliament for the Ablekuma West Constituency and spearheaded by honourable Professor Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng who is the Minister for Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation. According to Mrs Ursla Owusu, Professor Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng is the chief architect of the ‘floating bridge’ project.
The Bridge was to connect two communities where the people of Shiabu Live. The Bridge was constructed over the Chemu River. But that thing is actually just smelly ‘gutter’ water. There are no edible fishes in that river for your information. It does not support biodiversity in anyway.
The Bridge was promoted as first of its kind with the innovative ability of it raising its legs when it sees water coming towards it. If the bridge was a girl it will raise leg and its skirt too.
The Shiabu community is a typical slum with people living in some level of poverty.
The heavy amount of plastic waste you see in the photo and that engulfs this area is mostly not from the community. About 90% is from upstream as it rides the waves of floodwaters into the sea. The community members may be generating less than 10% of the plastics but that is all they see every day.
So apparently when the Floating Bridge was done, they did not notify the bridge about the amount of plastic waste and the power of floodwaters that it has to be raising its leg over. The Bridge also did not get the memo from the Ghana Meteorological Department about the heavy rain that was coming.
So that Bridge was taking a nap on this faithful day when it got the shock of its life. It was love at first sight. Brothers and Sisters, the Floating Bridge Floated Away on Sunday with joyous applause and celebrations from residents who I believe have been starved of any real entertainments over some time due to the lockdown.
So let me ask a few questions and let me offer some few suggestions as an environmentalist and sustainability professional.
How much was spent on this project? Floating Bridge was built in January 2020 and floated away in April 2020. How long was it supposed to last before the permanent one was built? Didn’t they know the rains and floods were upon us?
How does a whole Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation Minister visit a community with heavy levels of every form of environmental pollution just to build and launch a floating Bridge and go back to his office?
The bridge begun to hold heavy plastics and the residents started to become alarmed and it was published by media houses. What was done about it? So apparently the chief architect did not know that the Bridge will hold plastics and did not have any short, medium or long term plan to have the plastic waste removed from under the bridge? Remember this government says they consider plastic waste as a resource for nation-building and not as waste.
Did they really do a need assessment? I mean did they collect data on how much tons of plastic waste comes through the river regularly? Did they think about the wave and power of the flood waters that come storming down that river? I mean that big trench of polluted water? The ministry has been there for a while. Same for the problem so they should have known shouldn’t they?
Even before they started this project they should have known it will get carried away by flood if common sense was being applied at least or?
Community members especially kids could have been carried away in that disaster and people may even have died.
Is there a flood defense and resilient plan for such communities? I mean what programs are there to protect members of these communities against the impact of the heavy pollution and flooding in this community and its effect on their economic, social, cultural and daily living?
What should be done? The Sustainable Approach:
The tons of plastic waste that comes through that river has economic value for the community. I know this because those of us who run projects in the waste management value chain do Plastic Waste Buy-Back Programs. Jobs can be created for community members through engaging them on this project. They will turn to own the project.
I know there are youth in the community with innovative minds who can be engaged to create recycling and up cycling projects in the community to benefit community members directly and create entrepreneurship springboards for such youth.
Assuming the Bridge was for the short term which may be 6 months to a year, the engineers should have known that when you make bridges you got to create way for the water to pass or it will find its own way. What was the aim of blocking the waterway and having plastics choke the bridge without having a plan to collect the plastic waste?
The Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation is supposed to be engaging the Minister of Water and Sanitation and partnering the district assembly responsible for that area to create a more sustainable solution that saves us all money. People in these communities are struggling to make ends meet and they should not be subjected to anything more that relates to wastage of money. They would have been better off being given that money.
It is important for us to look at projects more broadly and sustainably when designing them. We have to look at the environmental, social, economic, cultural, financial including other impacts of every project like ‘Accra Cleanest City in Africa by 2020’ agenda and make sure that projects are not creating more problems for communities. We should be gaining more from such projects for the money being spent on it. How much was spent on the floating Bridge again? Well the Bridge has floated away. I wished it was still here so I can hear straight from the horses own mouth. The two ministers ended up creating an additional waste to add up to the already huge waste burden we have. But these are the people supposed to be leading the sustainable change.
Makafui Awuku is an environmentalist, author and artist. He’s founder and CEO of Mckingtorch Africa, a social enterprise which converts waste materials into useful products.