Ghana's govt faces tough questions, allegations of neglect amid mourning for victims

Roberto Valussi's bungalow quickly filled up with water from all directions as heavy rains pelted Ghana's capital. Now his drying laundry now bears a 3 foot high (1 meter) mark showing the floodwaters' high point.

His neighbors were bringing out suitcases, fans and anything else they could save from their homes and laid the soggy items out to dry in the sun — hopefully before the next rains come.

"We tried to use buckets to get the water out, but quickly realized that it was useless," Valussi lamented.

The flooding in Accra last week not only devastated many homes but caused fuel from a gas station to ignite, killing at least 160 people. As the country mourned the victims at a national service Wednesday, the Ghanaian government is facing allegations that poorly managed city planning contributed to the tragedy.

Critics have called on Accra's mayor to resign including the opposition the Progressive People's Party.

"It is his responsibility to maintain sanitation and order. He may have his reasons for not being able to perform. However, we need to get our officials to be responsible," said William Dowokpor, policy analyst with the party.

Residents and experts agree that the capital, with its rapid population growth, lacks a proper system to deal with annual rains. This city has grown by more than half a million people in just the last 15 years to an estimated 2.3 million. Many areas lack sufficient gutters and where they do exist, they quickly fill with garbage that accumulates in the absence of public trash cans.

The drainage and sewage system is antiquated and dates back to a time when the city held just fraction of its current population.

Flooding was so bad this past week that people were abandoning their cars as streets turned into canals and were wading home. Though even that wasn't safe because in some neighborhoods the flood waters poured into ground floor windows forcing out.

Buildings are also routinely built on marshy land that should never have been used but bribery and vested interests ensure that building codes are often overlooked, says Yao Graham, head of the Third World Network — Africa, an advocacy group based in Accra.

"There is a question about how much is allocated from public resources — it has never been adequate," he said. "Then there is the corruption when it comes to the planning regime, because that ensures that even (if) a good plan exists on paper, it is never set out."

In the area where the fire started the night of June 3, shops and stalls are surrounded by electrical goods. Wires are exposed in places where homeless people sleep and seek shelter overnight.

Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama, who took over after his predecessor died in office in 2012, has pledged to modernize the capital's drainage system in the wake of the tragedy and to crack down on substandard housing in areas prone to flooding.

But he has made such promises before and even two years ago announced with great fanfare a project to fix the drainage system that went absolutely nowhere.

"Our first priority now is to save lives and prevent any further suffering of our people but beyond that we'll take the tough measures that are necessary to prevent such disasters from occurring in the future," he said.

The president also pledged that DNA tests would be conducted on unidentified bodies that are still lying in morgues in the capital in order for relatives to collect loved ones for burial.

Still, the promises have been of little consolation to those who lost everything.

"It is painful to lose a son who is only 27 and starting to build his life," said Alfred Appiah. "Pascal was my oldest son and l have wanted to see him grow but, this tragedy has taken him away."


Associated Press writer Francis Kokutse contributed to this report