Accra’s drainage system was designed to discharge water directly into the sea, using a network of gutters running all over the city. I cannot understand why a modern city should have a drainage system like that. A gutter, by definition and design, has to be OPEN so that it can collect water from the road. But, like anything that is exposed and unprotected, a gutter can be the primary or contributing factor to disaster, such as the horrific explosion that occurred at Kwame Nkrumah Circle last night.
A gutter in a densely populated city like Accra is not wise, for quite a few reasons.
Threat to life and limb
On a rainy day, a large gutter can transform into a raging river in a matter of minutes, flushing everything in its path. I know a young man whose life was sadly cut short one wet evening when he fell into a gutter by mistake. He had no chance as the muddy water swept him into the sea, less than a mile away. This tragedy is by no means an isolated incident.
If you have ever lived in Ghana, then you probably know someone who accidentally landed in a gutter and sustained serious injuries.
The purpose of the drainage system has been almost entirely defeated, because people use the gutters as a rubbish dump, thus creating a terrible eyesore, not to mention the overpowering stench. Imagine the shock and disappointment of first-time visitors on seeing filthy gutters right in the heart of Accra. I make a conscious effort not to look at any gutter, lest I lose my appetite for the next few days!
As a result of the indiscriminate dumping of all types of refuse, the gutters tend to be congested with time, so they can no longer function as conduits of floodwater, as they are supposed to do. They rather become - ironically - impediments to free flow of water. Yes, city employees, as well as volunteers, make an effort to unclog the drains from time to time, but to rid the entire network of gutters of all the garbage and silt is no easy task. Gutters exacerbate rather than minimize the flooding problem.
There is absolutely no limit to the type of garbage people deposit into the gutters. It includes human waste, carcasses, chemicals, and any other hazardous materials you can imagine. Therefore, gutters constitute a significant health risk, besides the other demerits mentioned above.
Last night, the floodwaters carried inflammable material to a fire that caused an explosion, killing dozens of people. Next time round who knows what hazard the floodwaters will transmit?
Without a minute’s delay, Ghana needs to begin a process of phasing out the gutter-based drainage system and replace it with state-of-the-art sewerage technology, because in a congested city like Accra, a gutter is nothing short of a recipe for disaster.
I am extremely saddened by the gruesome deaths of dozens of people in the horrific explosion at Kwame Nkrumah Circle. It is especially heartbreaking because it was a foreseeable catastrophe that could have been easily avoided. My thoughts and prayers are with the deceased as well as their friends and families.
Proofreading this post was easy, thanks to Grammarly, my favourite proofreader.
Written by: Theo Acquah
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