October 31, 2017 is World Cities Day; a day set out to examine urbanization as a phenomenon and iron out its successes and challenges. I happen to live in a large urban center- Accra. Accra is the capital city of Ghana, and it’s not surprisingly the most densely populated city in the country.
Photo : UN
The last census in 2010 puts the city’s population at 2,076,546. If you think that’s high then you may be surprised at another statistic- if the annual the growth rate of 2.2% is anything to go by we may be hovering at little over 5,000,000 people right now! The question we must ponder over is whether the city has evolved to accommodate this bulge in numbers.
Photo : Lonely Planet
Trying to navigate Accra using public transport exposes the morbid difficulties citizens commuting herein face. The second most widely used means of transport are the ‘Tro-Tros’- and anyone who has had the chance of travelling in one can confirm that the name is onomatopoeic, reflecting the rickety bodies and beaten engines these vehicles have. ‘Tro-Tro’ is the most accessible and affordable means of vehicular transport in Accra. While travel via this means is easy on the pocket, the trade-offs made for safety and comfort are big worries.
Trotro is the most used means of transportation in Accra Photo : FivePrime
There are no seat belts because vehicle owners & drivers often mould custom seats to increase the seating capacity, thereby earning more per trip at the expense of passenger comfort and safety. What’s worse than this rugged means of transport?
The dilapidated roads these cars have to meander upon to get to the desired destinations. If sitting in a ‘Tro-Tro’ is a terrible experience, some of the roads they ply are absolute hell.
I was going to add the issue of how tough it is navigating through Accra, but my mind is swiftly drawn to the new solution-The Ghana Post GPS App…A system I find quite unnecessary at this point. I am convinced that if we had all our streets named, with all houses numbered, going digital would make sense because the GPS system would be pointing you towards physical landmarks so you can get to your destination. The integration with the emergency services and the location nomenclature are bright features, but I am pressed to say this system appears to be just another GPS Location App.
Ghana Post GPS App Photo: Swiftfoxx
I imagine that Ghana Post can use your location to do a delivery of items to your location. However this is something that free apps like Google Maps, WhatsApp, Facebook etc. can do. I can share my location with someone and they simply follow the map’s directions to get to me. But will a Bank accept a digital location – a home address, if I go for a loan? I doubt that. Some countries require that you have a physical address well displayed and this is legally binding. Joining this new Ghana Post GPS system on the other hand is voluntary and is limited to users who have smartphones and stable internet connection.
Recent studies show that we have only 51% of our population using internet-enabled phones. Out of this, only 31% download and install applications-no surprise here as data is very expensive in our part of the world. (Citi FM report here)This clearly shows we are nowhere near a universally accepted system. But indeed if you need something delivered via the postal means, Ghana Post GPS may be the way to go.
Water and Sanitation
Urban Accra still has serious challenges dealing with water and sanitation. This is despite millions of dollars being pumped into the sector.
Photo : GGI
In May this year, Citi FM, an Accra Based radio station, reported the $150 million World Bank funded Greater Accra Metropolitan Area (GAMA ) project is about to run its course without a significant overhaul being recorded in the sector. This is a project that is setting out to improve sanitation, water supply and environmental management.
The story’s headline reads: “$150m GAMA project in limbo; only 900 toilets to show”.
This story may be a bit unfair since the project closes in 2020, so they have 3 years to meet their targets. On the other hand, the criticism may be a bit charitable if you take a look at their financial statements vis-à-vis their implementation report. Millions of dollars are being spent on “Capacity Strengthening” and “Workshops and Conferences’’ yet their latest Implementation Report reveals that the project will most likely fail to meet its stipulated targets. This is probably why the urban populace has not yet felt the effect of the millions of dollars in their day-to-day lives.
Let me break some of the interesting performance indicators down:
|Indicator||2016||2017||End Target 2018|
|a) People provided with access to “improved sanitation facilities”||220||220||250,000|
|b) Number of people in urban areas provided with access to Improved Water Sources under the project||500||3230||250,000|
|c) Volume(mass) of BOD pollution load removed by treatment plant under the project||0||0||400
|d) Improved community water points constructed or rehabilitated under the project||7||7||500|
|e) New piped household water connections that are resulting from the project intervention||0||455||3500
|f) Improved latrines constructed under the project||280||755||12500|
|g) People trained to improve hygiene behaviour/sanitation practices under the project||0||15000||250|
|h) Piped household water connections that are benefiting from rehabilitation works undertaken by the project||0||0||50|
|i) Capacity of sludge treatment plants constructed or rehabilitated under the project||0||0||900|
The project successfully trained 15,000 to improve their sanitation practices. However it has not been able to build a single sludge treatment plant out of an estimated 900. It has also improved sanitation facilities for 220 people and latrines for 755, yet no household has benefitted from piped household water connections. None! One would think that $150 million could probably have done a few thousand at least! The most successful portion of the project so far is cancelled out because of the inadequate infrastructure provided. What is training when there are not enough toilets around?
The treatment plants they failed to build is particularly worrying. My boss, Ms. Akua Akyaa (of blessed memory) once said that ‘most of us are guilty of defecating in the open, and we just do not know it’. The simple reason for this is that the septic tanks that houses our faeces are sucked out and dumped into the sea. Yep! Right where some ‘’trained’’ young men and women go to ease themselves. If the project had built even just 2 extra facilities perhaps it may have taken away the guilt and disgust you probably have right now as you read this- knowing that one day your faeces may end up in the sea and given you some hope that maybe your waste would be properly disposed of.
Accra needs much more sanitation infrastructure to cater for its burgeoning population, not capacity building and talk shops. The implementers of GAMA (Ghana Water Company, Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development etc.) had a great opportunity to make a difference but failed woefully.
Photo: Good Housekeeping
People in Accra are generally isolated from nature because of a lack of green spaces, amongst other things. If you doubt this, ask yourself if you can name 5 parks or eco- sanctuary reserves in Accra. The lush greens of nature remind us of our complete dependence on the earth. It is very important that we invest in such infrastructure, particularly for this computer driven generation.
Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD), a term coined by Richard Louv in his book ‘’Last Child in the Woods’’ describes how alienated children have become to nature, and this has made children more vulnerable to poor moods and lower attention span. NDD is not a scientifically recognized medical condition, however its central idea is that we being natural beings, have to interact with nature- reduced contact will have adverse impacts on us.
This is why I have a problem with the reversal of plans to make Achimota Forest an Eco- Park .The environmental worldview of the current Minister for Environment seems preservationist, as he wants the area to remain a forest. While that is understandable, it must be put in the context that the Forest is being encroached upon, thereby diminishing the biodiversity we cherish so much. Why then does the government not develop the park productively to create jobs and provide a green space for urban dwellers to go and enjoy the wonders of nature, instead of having to travel to Kakum National Park etc?
The theme for this year’s World Cities Day is Innovative Governance and Open Cities. If the city of Accra will be more open, leadership must be up and doing. We must not just do new things. Our solutions must be local, practical and considerate.
Written by Yaw Nkansah / Green Ghanaian Initiative