On the morning of August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrine made landfall hitting the Gulf Coast of the United States and causing widespread destruction. Hundreds of thousands of people in the states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama were displaced from their homes, and estimates put the cost of the damage to exceed $100 billion. New Orleans, the largest city in Louisiana was probably the worst affected. With half of the city already existing below sea level, over 80% of the city got flooded when the Katrina storms led to the failure of the City’s primary defence against floods. Levees and floodwalls constructed to protect the city broke, leaving the City defenceless against the elements.
In the aftermath of the disaster, there was widespread criticism of some of the officials in charge and the inadequacy and delay in response. Ultimately, the police chief, Eddie Compass resigned due to the fact some of his officers deserted the city at a time the city needed them the most while, Michael Brown, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) also resigned due to criticism of the way the agency managed the response to the disaster. Less than a year later, an independent commission into the disaster reported that the levees didn’t fail because of natural pressure from storm waters but because of failures in engineering design that made it unable to withstand the storm.
Since then, hundreds of structures have been constructed to prevent such an occurrence from ever happening again, including the “Great Wall of Louisiana,” a 1.8-mile-long concrete wall which was designed to reduce the risk of storm surge in many parts of the city that were flooded during Hurricane Katrina due to levee or floodwall failures. Levees have been repaired or constructed and the city has been rebuilt. New Orleans isn’t over the largest disaster in its history but it is on its way there.
On June 3rd, 2015, torrential rainfalls in Accra, the capital of Ghana, led to the flooding of some areas of the city, especially areas around the Kwame Nkrumah Circle. A fire that engulfed a filling station at Circle, in addition to the floods led to the loss of over 200 lives and property worth over GHC 1 million. Nobody took responsibility for the disaster.
A committee set up to investigate the cause of the disaster established that the fire was caused by a certain Seth Ofosu whose improper disposal of a lit cigarette into the water which unbeknownst to anybody, was already coated by fuel leaking from the nearby Goil Filling Station, sparked the inferno that led to the massive loss of life. Nothing has been heard about Seth Ofosu since he was taken in to assist with investigations.
The committee also reported the flood and the leakage of fuel from the filling station as secondary causes of the disaster. They recommended a standardized training, certification and licensing of fuel station attendants as well as better control over the citing of filling stations. They also recommended the dredging of the Odaw River and a ban on the use of plastic bags.
In the aftermath of the disaster and these recommendations, work began to prevent the occurrence of such a disaster. The Odaw river was dredged. The Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) demolished hundreds of homes at Old Fadama that prevented the dredging of the Korle Lagoon or that were built close to waterways. The government released millions of cedis for the humanitarian relief while private organizations and citizens contributed in cash and in-kind to help the victims and the affected families.
Since then, the dredging of the river and the lagoon has largely been ignored. Nothing has been done to regulate the siting of filling stations; in fact more and more still pop up almost everywhere. In fact, concerned citizens and students have regularly complained about the siting of a filling station behind the University of Professional Studies in Legon. All of these complaints have fallen on deaf ears. The flagrant littering of our streets and gutters have continued apace.
Meanwhile, the rains are back as they shall continue to do every year. Our city continues to get flooded each time, sometimes after rainfall of just about an hour. The status quo has returned. Nothing has changed since two years ago. Until the next time it happens again.