FLOOD DISASTER IN THE MIDST OF COVID 19 RESPONSE.

As I was driving from Ho to Accra on the evening of Monday 1st June 2020 in the midst of a heavy rain storm, I begun to reflect on what will happen when we begin to have the heavy rains in our cities, towns and villages in the coming days and weeks. I also recalledthe sad events of June 3rd 2016 combined disaster caused by fire and floods leading to the death of over 150 persons. My mind then went to how we have deployed our response capacities and capabilities on COVID 19 and what we should expect with over 11,000 already infected with the coronavirus and the reality of floods across the country.

The raining season in Ghana is known to have devastating effects leading to loss of life, destruction of properties and livelihoods. Each year, Governments and national institutions and relief agencies are called in to respond to the disasters as a result of the heavy rains.While inspecting the extent of the disaster andproviding relief items to the victims of the flood disasters, we often hear promises of how the following year government will make resources available to prevent flood disasters through desilting, removing unlawful structures, increase public education on sanitation, effective waste management provision of drainage infrastructure, establishing early warning systems, increasing response capabilities and ensuring adequate budget provisions for relief and humanitarian response.

Somehow, in the last two decades the pattern hasnot changed, it has been one flood disaster after another, and promises after promises.During this same period successive governments have instituted committees and commissions to investigate the worse flood disasters in Ghana. The reports of these investigations and their recommendations can be found covered with dust in the respective institutions and only lip service being paid to their recommendations. There seems to be a structural and systemic challenge when it comes to the implementation of recommendations of reports on natural and man-made disasters in Ghana.

1n 2020, we are again going to witness the opening of the Bagre Dam in Burkina Faso with its devastating consequences in Northern Ghana where crops would be destroyed and homes pulled down by the over flow of water from the streams and river beds. We shall see Accra being flooded as a result of the siltedOdawRiver and other choked drainage scattered in the city. Properties would be destroyed and loss of lives may occur in certain places. Glimpses of what we should expect are already being covered by the media. We seem to be helpless and waiting for a miracle to prevent the obvious, the government and its institutions are silent because they have not put in place any prevention mechanisms for the 2020 rainfall season and there may not be any preparedness or response plan as well. Unfortunately, we are all forced into a corner of hopelessness as we get consumed one more time with the devastating effect of another heavy rainfall season.

The rainfall season this year is going to be very critical as we will be confronted with the challenge of responding to the COVID 19 pandemic as well as flood disasters across the country. While contemplating about a dual emerging natural disaster of COVID 19 and flood disasters, we need to have preparedness and response programmes in place now for the floods which reflects the reality of the spread of the corona virus. Elements of the plan must include education and awareness raising on early warning, moving persons from potential flood prone areas to higher grounds, desilting choked drainage, road signs identifying uncovered potholes, negotiating with the Burkina Faso authorities of a phased opening of the spill ways of the dam, avoiding activities around river beds, and the meteorological department must be seen to be proactive on weather forecasts.Government must by necessity allocate adequate budget resources for the preparedness and response plan. The National Disaster Management Organisation must demonstrate the use of their long term experience, knowledge, capacity, network and resources to bring hope to the people and reduce the potential of any major flood disaster due to this year’s rains.

Already, a couple of heavy rains in Accra have seen the same pattern of flooding and a mirror image of previous disasters as though nothing has been done in the past several years to reduce the impact of heavy rains on the population.Indeed, parts of Accra experienced some of the worst flooding a couple of days ago which has already caused significant damage to properties and also loss of lives.

While government and other national institutions are to be held accountable, we as a people must equally take responsibility for activities that choke the drainage systems, unlawful building on water ways, farming in flood prone areas, and not adhering to early warning and weather advisory notes.We must begin to take seriously the reality of climate change which has changed the rainfall pattern in West Africa. Government and Stakeholders should begin to introduce policies that recognize and promoteclimate change adaptation to transform and reverse the environmental shock of the effect of climate change.

Both the government and the communities must work together through effective communication, collaboration and coordination to save us from the perennial flood disasters. For 2020, the dual challenge of responding to the COVID 19 pandemic and the disaster caused by floods would be a daunting task but which we can overcome by doing what is right, and apply the experience to build back better.

By PROSPER BANI

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