17.06.2002 Feature Article

Accra is Choking!

By Press
Accra is Choking!
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A. Harruna Attah & L.G.A Amoah Accra is growing rapidly - sprawling uncontrollably in all directions. Lagging behind however is the infrastructure needed to make it into a modern metropolis. The newer suburbs are ironically less well developed in terms of infrastructure than the older suburbs. The older suburbs are however not faring well themselves with their damaged or decaying infrastructure. The mix is not a comfortable one as can be seen in the havoc being wreaked by the seasonal downpours. Accra is currently in a state of flux and all suburbs are suffering the "heat" of the floods brought about by what is clearly the failure of the city's authorities to apply urban planning discipline in their management of the city. To stem the floods, the city would need at least US$30 million to undertake massive civil works in flood control. Houses have sprung up where they should not be; ugly walls have been built around houses in the name of security; in recent times, use of plastics has mushroomed - from "waakye" to "pure water" plastic wrappings - without the necessary environmental checks having been put in place. The result is that the national capital is being choked in a garden of non-biodegradable plastics. The recent floods have presented graphic images of how Accra's urban environment has been taken over by plastic litter. Choked drains have been mentioned as being a contributory factory to the flooding with the main culprits in the choking of the drains being the non-biodegradable plastics. These are disposed of by city residents whose appetite for plastics is far in excess of their good sense in how to handle these dangerous polluters of the environment. It is a common sight to see "pure water" sachets or other plastic wrappers being thrown out of moving vehicles or simply being dumped as refuse. Roadside gardens of plastic flowers have grown all over the city. Even casual observers cannot fail to notice after every major downpour in the capital all manner of plastic matter jutting out of the potpourri of waste deposited everywhere apparently by the floodwaters. Used black polythene bags of various sizes and discarded transparent ones used for packing what is popularly known as "pure water" constitute the majority of the plastic matter under consideration. The consensus is unanimous that these essentially non-biodegradable stuff together with other forms of waste have acted in dubious unison to clog Accra's aged, obsolete and overtaxed drainage system. The principal question is how to effectively deal with this ubiquitous polymer presence all over the capital in order not only to spare the residents of Accra the harrowing experience of flooding and ugliness but also to protect the nation's environment in the long term. In this connection the Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology (MEST) and other state institutions such as the Accra Metropolitan Authority which are legally mandated to handle environmental issues must be seen to be discharging their functions effectively. In an interview, Dr. Rexford Osei of the Policy Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Unit of MEST said a plastic waste recycling fund would be set up soon, meaning all this while this problem has not been fully addressed. He said this idea came up after a meeting late last year with polythene producers on how to efficiently handle plastic waste. Dr. Rexford Osei said MEST had been at the helm of numerous campaigns targeted at the waste disposal habits of Ghanaians. These policy measures, he said could only be effective if Accra residents in particular, and the citizenry generally readjusted their littering habits. Clearly a multi-sector approach is required to deal with the city's increasingly complex waste disposal problem. These measures ought to be innovative. The Accra Metropolitan Assembly can for example attract private participation in the handling of plastic waste by offering competitive rates. The Ministry of Roads and Transport must ensure that drains are covered. Penalties regarding indiscriminate littering on the statute books must be made to apply. Ultimately Ghanaians must re-orientate their relationship to the environment if inventive policy shifts are to have any meaning including making the annual flooding of the republic's capital the stuff of history. The plastics producers themselves must accept as part of their social responsibilities to clean up after reaping their huge profits. So far they have shown remarkable lack of interest in ploughing some of their profits into environmental protection.

As the city of Accra gets engulfed in a sea of dangerous plastic flowers, the manufacturers of plastic based goods must be made to contribute to the clean-up.

Views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of Ghanaweb.

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