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Water – Useful but Extremely Destructive if “Untamed”

Wed, 23 Nov 2011 Source: Essel, Kojo Cobba

“Once AGAIN, torrential rains have hit the Accra Metropolis, creating heavy floods in various parts that have caused great havoc to lives and property. The team of ministers, the mayor of Accra, officials of the National Disaster Management Organization (NADMO) and the security agencies are going round to ascertain the impact” –GNA, 2009

I have highlighted “ONCE AGAIN” for obvious reasons. The scenario above is almost a ritual. As soon as the sun shines consistently, and the land dries up, you can be sure that we will lay down our pens, take off our boots, jump into our budget crippling SUVs, return to discussing “more pressing issues” and pretend it was all just a dream. How many more warnings do we need as a nation before we sit up? Maybe 70 X 7! If God was human he definitely would have been fed up with us by now and that will mean we would have been left to our fate. We are all to blame. NO EXCEPTIONS!

The destructive floods of 26th October 2011, had given us ample warning. Several months before this day, there had been rains that had caused significant flooding though they lasted only briefly and were not heavy. What were those in charge of keeping us safe and alive waiting for? The destruction of life, property and the diseases that are waiting to take their pound of flesh can never be overemphasized. On that morning, I saw pain and suffering, tears and dejection but above all I experienced a feeling of togetherness. Will this last long enough for us to do the ri

ght things or will we as usual repeat the cycle and “comedy of errors?”

CAUSES OF FLOODS

1. Urbanization

a. Migration of people from the rural areas into the large cities such as Accra and Kumasi has led to an explosion in their population. We have outstripped the already poorly planned facilities available

b. The urban poor in the capital of Accra are especially vulnerable to the effects of flooding due to poorly and often illegally built structures, (many across the paths of water bodies) overcrowded living conditions, and inadequate sewage and drainage systems that are often clogged with refuse. Scarcity of land has also forced many people to occupy low lying areas and are also prone to floods

2. Decreased Capacity of Drainage Channels

a. our drains are chocked with refuse or are silted up as are our rivers and streams

3. Incapacity of Drains and Culverts

a. Drains are absent in many places, unfortunately in priviledged areas where we may find some semblance of drains, their capacity is woefully inadequate. In some areas open gutters compete for honours as to which of them is able to reclaim the sand/silt skillfully dug out and lined on their edge. Really do we expect nature to find a way of leaving them along the edges of the drains till the rapture? How ridiculously NEGLIGENT can we be as a people. Is someone being paid to take care of these? They had better come out clearly to say they are and have been on STRIKE since they were appointed instead of claiming to be at work and doing absolutely nothing.

4. Impact of Climate Change

a. Extreme changes in weather are here to stay, so we had better find practical solutions to keep us safe. The rains are erratic, the sea levels are rising above many inhabited land and it’s only a matter of time.

5. Human Attitude

a. Probably the most important. All the factors listed above are directly linked to our activities. Drains serve as our garbage disposal areas, edges of gutters are ideal for leaving heaps of sand and deforestation and exhaust fumes are adversely impacting our climate. We sow INDISCIPLINE and one of the many things we reap is flooding.

EFFECT OF FLOODING

1. Economic Loss

a. Destruction of property can be extreme and in many situations it can bring economic activity to its knees. People are busy taking care of their homes, factories are shut because of the havoc caused by the water and several hours to days, weeks, months and even years of economic activity are lost

b. Resources that could have been used to develop the country will now be used for reconstruction – what an absolute waste!

2. Environmental

a. Our already ridiculous traffic situation will graduate to another level totally unheard of. This is caused by damaged roads (if the roads even exist), destroyed bridges and workmen trying hard to intervene.

b. Damaged farmlands will bring about economic hardships for our farmers as stored food and farm products may be destroyed. Certainly these losses will eventually hit the pockets of even those who live several miles away.

3. Human Beings

a. Once again, I will separate the number one culprit. Lives are lost (including through drowning) as well as homes, businesses, vehicles and many more

4. Diseases

a. Floods will always leave a myriad of diseases in its trail, both immediate and long term. Infectious diseases will have a field day and these include; common cold, food poisoning (especially when there is no electric power), cholera, typhoid and hepatitis A. Remember when everything settles, malaria will rear its ugly head.

b. The physical and mental impact on our health is often ignored but anyone who has been a victim of the effects of a flood will tell you that they experience; shock, anxiety, fear, sadness, anger and physical symptoms such as headaches and general body pains. It sounds to me as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, what about you? Your guess is as good as mine; the effects are most devastating in children.

LOOK OUT FOR THESE AFTER A FLOOD

After a flood, it’s time to clean up and put the pieces back together. Life will go on and those paid to address such situations will go back to sleep.

For those of us who have to do the “dirty” work, take note of the following:

• Electrocution – put off power sources.

• Broken bottles, nails and other sharp objects that may injure you.

• Avoid contact with insects and animals (there may be many stray animals with diseases such as rabies)

• Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water as often as needed and wear protective gloves and other clothing if possible

• Get rid of all the mud and use disinfectants

STEPS TO AVOID FUTURE FLOODS

This is no easy terrain to venture into since I am not an authority in the field but I will make a few suggestions and hopefully that will start the debate. It is my hope that this will not die off till the next flood.

In 1995, the major rains caused a lot of disruptions including; lack of water supply and electricity. Disruptions in roads and railways and the loss of at least 17 human lives. This may be just statistics to someone but for another person it is his/her very life. He may have lost a breadwinner and the only hope.

1. EDUCATION

a. This is paramount. It should be continuous. We will have to use all avenues possible; print and electronic media etc, opinion leaders, churches, schools

b. Education should not be limited to only the “ordinary” man. Those who normally take the prestigious tour through flooded areas should be educated too.

2. STRUCTURAL MEASURES

a. Why do we still have open drains in 2011 in even our capital city? Are we not asking for trouble especially when we know the behaviour of our people when it comes to refuse disposal. The cost of the eventual destruction far outweighs that of the construction.

b. Why do we assume that a population will stay the same when we are planning structures including drains? Don’t we need wider and deeper drains? Is desilting of drains and water bodies the work of a government agency or is it a forgotten area. Hmm better to spend the money and time debating loans and housing facilities I guess

c. How much money is enough, to cause one to approve a building right in the path of a water body? You may live far away from the site but remember you cannot predict the cumulative effect of poor construction. You may eventually be a victim of a flood one day

d. As painful as it may be, certain structures in the wrong location may need to be destroyed. Even if compensation is paid, it will eventually be far cheaper.

e. Maintenance does not kill. Let us upgrade and maintain our drainage systems.

f. We need to hold someone accountable for the work and property and lives lost or harmed. This is no natural disaster, it is one conceived by negligence and inactivity, spiced with indiscipline.

I hope that in 2012, I will not have to write again “so long a letter” because we will be on top of our flood avoidance and preparedness programme.

Source:

Dr. Kojo Cobba Essel, MBChB, MBA

Moms’ Health Club

www.healthclubsgh.com

References:

1. The Holy Bible – Mathew 18:21

2“Impact of floods in Ghana and the way out” – Bentil Asafo-Duho

3. Journal of Water and Health -2009

4. WHO – Flooding and Communicable Diseases

5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (USA)

Columnist: Essel, Kojo Cobba