Dredging the drains: the race to stop floods in Accra

Dredging the drains: the  race to stop floods in Accra

ACCRA: The seasonal rains are due in Ghana, and like every year since 2015, when more than 150 people were killed during the deluge, the disaster looms heavily over the capital, Accra.

Authorities are scrambling to prevent a similar emergency when the heavens open by clearing silt, rubbish and sludge from the open drains and waterways of the coastal city.

But unfortunately, the task is easier than it sounds because Accra, like other cities in West Africa and beyond, has seen decades of rapid population growth but not enough investment in infrastructure to keep up. The city's drainage system was built in 1963, six years after independence from Britain, when the population was about 500,000.

Today, Accra is home to about four million but the drains have stayed much the same: channels at the side of roads and houses, open to the elements or covered with paving slabs. "Disasters are taking us over, there are certain things that do not have to happen," hydraulic engineer Wise Ametefe told AFP. "Very little rain doesn't have to cause flooding in Accra but it's causing flooding. We need to manage the flood." A dredging project of drains and water bodies in Accra is already making a "big difference", according to Graham Sarbah, drains director at the Accra Metropolitan Assembly.

The local government also has plans to reconstruct major drains and build new ones, he added. In the meantime, the question is whether they have done enough to prepare for the torrential downpours that come in June and July, drenching the city with sheets of rain in a gale of wind.

Andy Sabbah, a 47-year-old public transit worker, was in Accra on June 3, 2015. On that day, the rain flooded the streets, causing chaos. Near the Kwame Nkrumah Circle area of the city, people sought shelter under the canopy of a petrol station or in cars on the forecourt.

Leaked petrol floating on top of the water caught fire, burning down neighbouring buildings as well as the petrol station and trapping people in vehicles, then the pumps exploded. Sabbah said he watched helplessly as the fire ripped through the neighbourhood.