What has been left undone a year after the June 3 twin disaster

Wed, 1 Jun 2016 Source: Edmund Smith-Asante

It is already a year since Ghana experienced its worst disaster in the country’s history.

Tagged as the June 3 twin disaster or the ‘Black Wednesday’, that day still brings painful memories to many Ghanaians, even those who did not lose loved ones or properties to the marauding floods and the raging inferno from the Goil filling station that burnt people alive.

What painful death they had to go through! The Daily Graphic described the disaster as an apocalypse as the occurrence was very bizarre. The incident indeed, psychologically affected the entire nation and people still cringe at the onset of rains when they recollect the incident.

At the final count, the number of people who lost their lives in the flood and fire disaster hit 159. This excluded about 34 patients on admission at the 37 Military, the Ridge, the Police and the Korle Bu Teaching hospitals, as well as 70 outpatients with various injuries who sought medical attention at the hospitals.

In all, over 300 people were directly affected by the tragedy and the government declared three days of national mourning, took up the medical bills of those who escaped death and held a state burial for those who lost their lives.

Following that national tragedy, the government instituted many measures, some ad hoc, and others medium or long term to prevent a recurrence of the disaster.

Some of the ad hoc measures included the demolition of several structures, including fuel stations which were either considered to be on watercourses or posed danger to lives and property.

But as that fateful Wednesday is being recounted, it is all wet outside as the rains pour and the floods on the streets of the capital Accra, as well as the overflowing Odaw drain, suggest that there is still more to be done, to completely deal with the incidence of flooding at the slightest rain.

Counting the cost

A huge cost was encountered by the nation as a result of the twin disaster. Apart from the irreplaceable human lives lost, five houses, including the Goil filling station at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle, suffered various degrees of damage valued at GH¢?1,658,847.00, excluding other properties that suffered minor damages which were not valued.

However, it was only the Goil filling station that was insured.

Seventeen motor vehicles, including a fuel tanker were also burnt beyond repairs and a mini mart located within the filling station, Bediako Pharmacy and the Honest Chef Restaurant were completely destroyed.

Cause of floods

A drainage engineer, Mr Wise Ametefe, during a briefing at the office of the Vice-President Paa Kwesi Bekoe Amissah-Arthur, said the floods were experienced because there were inadequate water channels in the Accra metropolis, which made it impossible for flood water to flow freely.

He also stated that the interceptor at the Korle Lagoon needed to be cleared to pave the way for easy passage of water and said there was the need to clear the Odaw drain of silt to help prevent another disaster in the city of Accra.

Cause of fire

A five-member committee set up by the government and inaugurated on June 16, 2015 to investigate the possible causes of the June 3, 2015 disaster at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle Goil filling station presented its report to the then Minister of the Interior, Mr Mark Owen Woyongo at a ceremony in Accra on August 7, 2015.

According to the committee, which was chaired by Mr Justice Isaac Douse, a retired Appeal Court Judge, the fire was ignited by one Seth Kwesi Ofosu, who did not dispose of properly the butt of a cigarette he was smoking.

The remote cause, however, was the fact that there was a leakage of the fuel tanks at the filling station due to the flood and the fuel had mixed up with the flood water.

The "flooding of Kwame Nkrumah was the remote cause of the fire. The displacement of fuel from the Goil filling station at Kwame Nkrumah Circle was the intermediate cause.

"The dropping of the lit cigarette, stub by Seth Kwesi Ofosu, onto the floating fuel was the ultimate or immediate cause of the fire," the committee’s report stated.

The report indicated that Mr Ofosu was helping the security agencies with investigations to ascertain whether his action was intentional or otherwise.

Immediate interventions

By way of immediate interventions, the acting Co-ordinator of the National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO), Brigadier General Francis Vib-Sanziri, after the disaster occurred, told the Daily Graphic his office was collaborating with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to respond to the reported cases of cholera in Accra following the disaster.

He said NADMO’s immediate response was the distribution of relief items to the affected people and trying to prevent an epidemic from breaking out in those areas.

Brigadier General Vib-Sanziri said NADMO mobilised various teams in sectors such as the ministries of Health and Education to plan how to respond to the disaster.

He said as not only Accra was affected by the floods, NADMO also received concerns from and sent relief items to the various regions that had also been affected by floods.

The government also released GH¢60 million to support victims of the twin disaster.

Recommendations from committee’s report

To prevent a future occurrence of the tragedy that hit the country on June 3, 2016, the disaster committee recommended the complete dredging of the Odaw drain, a ban on the use of plastics as carrier bags, water dispensers and cooked food containers.

It also suggested standardised training, certification and licensing of filling station attendants, the creation of sanitation police, compulsory fitting of all commercial vehicles with refuse baskets or bins and equipping of disaster managers with the requisite tools to effectively handle disasters.

Also recommended was the provision of air ambulances and helicopter fire fighters, which should be managed by the Ghana Air Force and a fund to cater for the injured and deceased families.

The chairman said the recommendations of the committee, which included Mr Wise Ametefe, Chairman of Hydromet Committee- NADMO; Colonel M. Mustapha, Ghana Armed Forces; Chief Supt. Raymond Simpi, Ghana Police Service and DCFO William J. Mensah, Ghana National Fire Service, were “directed at making sure this kind of disaster never occurs again and even if it occurs its effects can be managed.”

What has been done so far?

However, checks by the Daily Graphic indicate that not all the recommendations of the committee have been followed through.

Apart from clearing of the Odaw drain which is currently being done by dredging company, Dredge Masters and an attempt to ban plastics which was scuttled by stakeholders who said a complete ban would not inure to the benefit of the country as many people would lose their jobs or livelihoods, much of the recommendations are yet to be followed through.

For instance, there are no indications that the standardised training, certification and licensing of filling station attendants, the creation of sanitation police, compulsory fitting of all commercial vehicles with refuse baskets or bins and equipping of disaster managers with the requisite tools to effectively handle disasters proposed have been carried out.

It is not also known that air ambulances and helicopter fire fighters have been procured by the government to be managed by the Ghana Air Force as suggested.

Resurrected structures

Rather, some of the structures that were pulled down in the wake of the floods, to allow the free flow of water during rains and thus preserve lives and property or for not possessing permits, later sprang up.

They include the Mile 7 Goil filling station which was rebuilt seven months after it was pulled down on June 8, 2015, following the disaster.

In the wake of the devastating floods, the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development (MLGRD) also directed metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies (MMDAs) in the country to remove unauthorised structures that impede the flow of storm water.

There was also a hue and cry when the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) demolished unauthorised structures at the Old Fadama slum in Accra popularly referred to as Sodom and Gomorrah and along the Odaw drain.

The action resulted in a protest march by residents which turned violent but the slum still remains and contributes to the filth that enters and silts the Odaw drain daily as dredging continues.

Emergency Leap

Many of the interventions made by the government have centred on those who were affected by the June 3 flood but little has been done to prevent a recurrence.

The Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection under its Emergency Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP) programme has begun registering victims of the June 3, 2015, flood and fire disasters with the National Health Insurance Scheme because they lost their NHIA cards in the flood and that has made it hard for them to access healthcare.

The ministry has also released GH¢ 3.9 million from its emergency programme to assist victims of the June 3 flood and fire disasters which consist of about 13,000 households around the disaster zone to assist them make ends meet.

Columnist: Edmund Smith-Asante