Why Town Planning in Accra is Flawed and Dangerous
This article is intended to highlight the concerns of a lay person regarding town planning in Accra and surrounding areas. It takes the perspective of an ordinary citizen whose concerns may be perceived as neurotic or unfounded, but which needs to be taken seriously because those concerns are real.
A careful look at road network, drainage, building design and location of residential property indicates the lack of foresight and deep thought in the past and the present.
In the early part of the twentieth century, 2 major roads were built leading north from the coastline to Kumasi and Akwapim. As the city expanded, it appeared no one thought of the chance that the 2 roads would become inadequate for all north-bound traffic. The population of Accra has grown fastest in a northerly direction and today one can see the chaos at the end of the business-day when workers are heading home. The 2 roads are obviously inadequate, and going towards Kumai/Tamale and towards Madina is a nightmare. Our lack of foresight has caught up with us.
There are no alternative north-bound roads and the expansion of those two roads is limited because residential developments were allowed to mushroom on both sides of these roads. The Akwapim road has hit a dead-end at the foot of the mountain ranges because residential units were and are still being developed at the edge of those mountains. Yet no one in our planning departments appear to be thinking of how future expansion of the road ought to transcend the foot of the mountains to effectively link Akwapim with Accra.
There is no doubt that all the towns in Akwapim are now surburbs of Accra and that traffic flow will soon become a problem. It makes one wonder whether we have any effective and forward-thinking planning personnel in Ghana?
Perhaps this is a minor problem compared to the developments around the Weija Dam area into Kasoa. It is here that planning in Accra registers its most serious flaw; a flaw that impacts on the environment, a unique natural resource, and the health and safety of the population. Some time ago in the late 1990s I wrote an article warning about the dangers of developments around the Weija Dam, and it appears more than 6 years later no one has headed the warning (Not surprising because I am a lay person in the field of planning).
Today, the catchment area of the Weija Dam, including its valleys and marshes has been settled with approval from our planning authorities. It is worrying that not one of the University and Government planning departments has seen anything wrong with this level of development around the lake. However I see these developments as an environmental catastrophe and a humanitarian time-bomb.
The recent Tsunami disaster in south Asia needs to serve as a reminder to us (more forcefully) of the capacity of natural forces to cause destruction, death and suffering beyond our comprehension. To this end,when human errors of judgement allow residential development such as in the Weija area, it may be hard to forgive because of the potential of the errors to cause another unfathomable disaster. To remember the Tsunami in Asia is to be warned of the impending danger lingering over Accra, and our town planners need to be worried. Undoubtedly, the developments in Accra and the Weija areas in particular are flawed and dangerous for the following reasons.
1. The physical geography of the Area indicates that the area is susceptible to earthquakes as the tectonic zones lie just off the coast of Ghana in the Atlantic. Thus, the potential of a big earthquake in the sea to produce tsunami-type devastation is possible, and more likely now, given the noticeable increase in the number of tremors in Accra during the last 5 years.
2. The physical geography also shows that the south-east coastline including much of Accra lies less than 5 meters above sea level, with most of the areas around the Weija Dam somewhat below or at par with sea level. In this sense, the danger of flooding is far higher in the area than most parts of south Asia. What is more worrying in the case of the Weija area is that our planners have allowed residential buildings to be constructed in the marshes and tributary channels. This implies that in the event of the dam getting more water due to heavy rains, there remain no overflow channels.
3. The developments around the dam have also been allowed at a time the UN and other research bodies have warned that water will be the centre of future conflicts between nations in the 21st Centrury. It is surprising that our planners did not care to save the Weija Dam; a unique and valuable natural resource. The construction of dams on the northern tributaries of the Volta in Mali and Burkina Faso is already threatening Akosombo, and we cant afford to waste our water resources.
Given the general poor drainage construction systems that characterises settled areas in Ghana, the waste and sewage from the surrounding residential units have already began to pollute the Dam. It is only a matter of time before the dam becomes another Agbogbloshie river, with waste superceding the amount of water. The strong stench will then make living in those residential areas unbearable. What is more, the dam will serve as a breeding ground for more mosquitoes and variants of the malaria and other diseases.
At this stage, the government of Ghana may not be able to reverse what has happened but it is still possible to streamline settlements around the Dam. It will also be important to systematise the drainage system in order to minimize the damage to the Weija Dam, and preserve it as a valuable water resource. I hope someone out there is reading and thinking of taking action.