Flooding and Physical Planning in Urban Areas in West Africa: Situational Analysis of Accra, Ghana

By Karley, Noah Kofi | Theoretical and Empirical Researches in Urban Management, November 2009 | Go to article overview
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Flooding and Physical Planning in Urban Areas in West Africa: Situational Analysis of Accra, Ghana


Karley, Noah Kofi, Theoretical and Empirical Researches in Urban Management


1. Introduction

Planning and infrastructure development in Ghana

The development of a well planned and, good quality, urban settlement requires adequate infrastructure provided. Access roads, drainage systems, water and sewerage connections are among the important infrastructure services which need to be provided. Other services, such as connections to electricity, gas networks, garbage collection and public transportation are also important components in a proper urban development. In most markets this type of infrastructure is usually either provided by local governments or utility companies. Development of access roads and other infrastructure by municipalities creates orderly development that conforms to planning regulations. This also creates incentives for commercial developers to invest in the municipalities. This is however not the case in many developing countries such as Ghana in West Africa. The lack of adequate infrastructure limits free flow of water and causes severe environmental problems such as flooding. These in turn cause social and health hazards and the most affected people have often been the vulnerable poor (Akrasi, 2008).

The Ministry of Roads and Transport in Ghana is the governmental body in charge of road construction and development. Although it is the responsibility of the government to carry out roads and drainage system maintenance, this is usually not regularly undertaken and when it rains the inadequate drainage system is unable to cope with the massive soil erosion to the extent that the water drainage system (gutters) are choked up causing flooding. The lack of proper and adequate sanitary systems means that septic tanks spill over and subject vast areas to environmental pollution.

Some of the main sources of drinking water are also contaminated in view of the underdeveloped state of the Ghanaian water sector. It is estimated that only 13 percent of the population have direct water connection to their dwellings (Karley, 2009). In addition, the relatively small existing water distribution infrastructure is old and ineffective. Most of the facilities and pipelines were laid more then 50 years ago and so water leaking further leads to water contamination and health hazards.

Like the water sector, the sewerage sector is very underdeveloped. Only seven percent of the Ghanaian population has flush toilets (TASC, 2005). In the greater Accra region this ratio reaches 25 percent. The minority of the population which enjoys flush or improved pit latrines uses private underground tanks which are emptied by sewage tank-trucks upon request. These tank-truck companies are either owned by the municipalities or in some cases privately owned. The trucks dispose the sewage in disposal sites managed by the municipalities. There are instances when the lack of proper and adequate sanitary systems means that flooding results in the pollution of main sources of drinking water as many other people use open spaces as free range toilets (own observation).

2. Historical background to flooding in Accra

Flooding from rivers, estuaries and the sea pose a serious threat to millions of people around the world. In Ghana the common causes of flooding are intense rainfall run-off, dam-burst and tidal waves. With the exception of the latter which occurs along the coast, the rest are experienced all over the country. The prominent areas are: Accra floods along the Odaw River; Pra River and Ankobra River floods in the Western Region; White Volta Floods in the Northern region; Black Volta floods in the Upper West Region; and Afram Plain floods in the Eastern and Ashanti regions.

Flooding problems in Accra date back to the late 1930s when the city started to expand. The earthquake of 1939 necessitated the development of new housing to accommodate the affected people.

Although this was undertaken without any obstruction to water courses, there simply wasn't enough housing to meet demand.

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