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The seat of the Ghana Government, Accra, is a place of active power, wealth and abundant natural resources, including the eco-assets of the Odaw River. The Odaw River possesses climate, socio-environmental and health benefits, and yet the underutilised and abused by the public in the capital city. The polluted river has influenced people to suggest that it should be covered from the public eyes. Many also believe that water from the river can never regain its natural significance. These views I do not concur. In this text, I am calling for a new conversation to eco-modernise the Odaw River to maximise its multiple contributions to green urban growth, combating microclimatic warming and socio-environmental services.
The ecosystem properties of the Odaw River are severely threatened because urban residents and migrants have done harm to it. The bio-habitat for useful insects, birds, fishes and earthworms necessary for re-building a functional urban biodiversity have been polluted and destroyed. Both domestic and industrial pollution played a greater role in causing the river’s unattractiveness and deteriorated conditions. Wastes of various types are deposited every day into it. The debris of manufactured products from local and international companies and businesses have been thrown into the river (un)consciously – broken computers, radio sets, lorry tyres, destroyed musical cassettes, mobile phones, sim cards and sachet water rubbers are dumped into the river. Industrial wastes, especially e-wastes and plastics are traceable, and credited to be major forces in fueling high flow of surface waters during rainfall and impermeability of flood waters in urban Accra. Conventional industrial practices failed to repair and sustain the Odaw River.
Generally, out of 2,200 tonnes of wastes generated annually, Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) records that nearly 400 tonnes are not collected or properly disposed. And, the collected wastes absorbed nearly 75% of the funds/revenues generated internally thus putting pressure on the budgetary allocations of the assembly. As a result, the uncollected wastes have drifted into most rivers and streams in the inner city. The Odaw River, in particular, has become “landfill” for discharging unwanted toxic substances. Open trading practices partially contributed to devaluation of this once viable river. What can be done to bring natural life into the river’s ecosystems is now an impasse. The unfortunate thing is that public debates about how to restore the river come up only when people are trapped, died or displaced by damaging floods in the city. When urban floods lead to painful disasters, the debate about how to find immediate solution resurfaces. As soon as the flooding ends, discussion concerning the Odaw River also closes. No one is interested.
The continuing pollution of the river is probably because its public values are not clearly known or due to the fact that people have assumed that nothing can be done about its restoration and sustainability. One of Ghana’s renounced environmentalists, Dr. Letitia Eva Obeng, while delivering the JB Danquah memorial lecture some time ago had observed: ‘The Mediterranean, until recently was in shocking state but the countries bordering it decided to clean it up. And, cleaning up can be done; fish once gain breeds in Thames. Pollution of surface waters can be stopped, and with determination, suitable technologies can be found.’ The Thames River is in the UK. During my learning periods in England in the first decade of the 21st Century, I walked around and saw a better managed river. There are best practices about how to scientifically and practically improve quality of river ecosystems in all over the world. Even in Ghana, we still have unspoilt river zones that offer good drinking water for local population.
Presently, the water in the Odaw River is not clean for drinking. The polluted Odaw River represents sanitation, climate and socio-economic cost. The World Health Organisation and Ghana’s Ministry of Health, for instance, will hardly refute this because the river can have ‘detrimental effects on quality of life and outbreak of infectious diseases’. The consequences of climate impact on the urban society if the eco-assets of the Odaw River completely collapse will be devastating in the future. Therefore, it is important to re-connect residents to urban nature through the promotion of eco-modernisation and sustainable conservation of the Odaw River and its ecosystems.
Linking global goals and the Odaw River
Urban authorities always envision and want good living conditions for their residents – good health, safety, happiness and comfortable city environments. This is same in Accra. Along the Odaw River, this desire is seemingly elusive but carefully being worked on. And, new all-inclusive actions are urgently needed to realise this vision over time. Raising and sustaining Accra’s Green Index is impossible without modernising the Odaw River’s eco-assets to its best usable status by 2030. Consider the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) #11 of the global agenda 2030? Currently, the polluted river endangered the progress towards the goal #11 of the SDGs and other local urban environmental agendas. Thus, modernising and sustaining the urban ecosystems in the catchments of the river ought to be a priority – a priority which concerns every Ghanaian. It is not one day task and should not be left to overwhelm the budget of the AMA alone. Every little contribution from us all is required to achieve a just and sustainable Accra through eco-modernisation of the Odaw River. What can urban youth really do to help eco-modernise Odaw River for a better future?
- AMA, 2011. Accra, Millennium city, Accra.
- Obeng L.E., 1980. Environmental management and the responsibility of the privileged. The J.B. Danquah memorial lectures series 13, February 1980. Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences, Accra.
- Republic of Ghana, 2007. National health policy: creating wealth through health. Ministry of Health, Accra.
Is there something that makes Accra’s geouniqueness enviable? The Government of Ghana legally places the administrative management of the entire country under Accra institutionally spearheaded by the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA). The AMA is doing good things for the city. And, not long ago, Accra’s Mayor was honoured as one of the Best African Mayors, and earlier, Accra was accorded a Millennium City. Since the official designation of Accra as a capital city, it had undergone remarkable political winnowing to become a city for democratic choice.
Traversing the city tells a lot. Accra, as a seat of government, houses important national assets including over 60 per cent of higher institutions of learning and the Kotoka International Airport (KIA), which serves as the country’s main junction to the global community. The British Airways (dis)embarks every other day. Getting flight to Germany’s Berlin, Canada’s Toronto, Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro or Brasilia, Russia’s Moscow, and India’s New Delhi is not a struggle. Chinese restaurants are easy to find and the South Africa’s national flag is heartily inscribed on commercial vehicles. The Japanese brands of vehicles are common on the streets. Dr Kwame Nkrumah’s Tema-Accra Motorway continually remains significant in linking the heavy industrial hub to the urban economy.
New physical infrastructure is springing up in the inner and the outskirts of the city somewhat reflecting an upward status ranking of Ghana by Human Development Report 2014. From Roman Ridge in central Accra to Dawhenya or from Adenta to Dodowa, several buildings of dissimilar capacities are emerging with stronger taste for the rich. The development of shopping malls and new residential, educational and industrial infrastructure had replaced nearly 80-92 per cent of traditional-styled buildings in Accra City. Konadu-Agyemang’s very useful study on ‘housing conditions and characteristics in Accra, an African city’ a decade and half ago, published in Habitat International, showed that 79 per cent of houses were constructed from cement blocks, 5 per cent from baked bricks, 4 per cent from mud/mud bricks and 3.6 per cent from wood. In central Accra, the extent to which buildings constructed from cement blocks have replaced traditional-styled buildings nowadays is close to 98.1 per cent.
In addition to serving administrative functions, Accra has metamorphosed into a booming centre for sub-regional trade negotiations and economic activities, and a home to thousands of people who had escaped civil wars. All kinds of food are traded at the Makola Market. Buying foodstuffs that were transported from rural areas by middlemen and then being conveyed back to the same rural areas by consumers is interesting to see at Makola Market. Public news concerning Ghana’s oil and gas industry has indirectly intensified hunger for the city such that youth migration from hinterlands to the city is alarming. The daily interactions of people from different local, national and international backgrounds make Accra an inviting cosmopolitan and a vibrant city – surprises can pop up though. Is Accra a global city?
The Extended Accra city inhabits by approximately 5 million people is congenially peaceful. The peaceful atmosphere in contemporary times is attracting many high-profiled international conferences and continental festivals. Key beneficiaries of the enabling environment are international students, researchers and scholars who are undertaking short-term cultural exchange programmes or long-term academic trainings. Foreigners and local residents live, eat, interact, and walk on the streets of Accra freely. Accra’s Oxford Street is a place-loving and place-relaxing. A few international companies, bilateral and multilateral organizations (United Nations [UNDP, UN-INRA, FAO & UNICEF], World Bank, DFID, Vodafone, Commonwealth, DANIDA and JICA) are represented in Accra’s landscapes providing varied services.
In global and continental context, many preeminent leaders had visited Accra over the years and went back with indelibly good memories. Some of the leaders included the former and current US Presidents Barack Obama, George Bush and Bill Clinton, the current Chairman of AU and President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, as well as the former and the current UN Secretary-Generals, Kofi Annan and Ban Kin-Moon respectively. The footprints of one of Africa’s best football stars, Samuel E’to were recorded. Such visits and others by personalities I could not mention had contributed to Accra’s global standing.
Accra has appealing socio-cultural outlook. Like other African capital cities, Accra has its own distinctive ethno-cultural identities. The Ga culture is deeply rooted and welcoming. The inter-religious tolerance within the city is pleasing. The coastal savanna identity is admirable. Its natural features such as the Achimota Forest Reserve, coastal reefs and the Odaw[na] River have undeveloped tourism appeals.
Is there any city where everything about urban living is complete? Inequality exists in Accra paving several areas for institutional collaborations and development interventions. Urban diseconomies of scale are testing the completeness of Accra city, including flooding, wastes, hunger, child streetism, and in-work poverty. Think about how street children are able to buy 500ml of drinking water? Recently, temptation by digital violence to deliberately cause human sufferings has been trans-territorially introduced. As the UN Millennium Development Goals targeted at redressing some of these urban issues are slowly getting to an end, the UN Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs) are rapidly surfacing. Besides the challenges that may be posed by climate change and extreme poverty, accepting the SDGs and demonstrating commitment to it by implementing integrated initiatives to eliminate urban inequality, decongest slums and streets, improve service delivery and expand energy opportunities will do well for transforming Accra into a sustainable and an inclusive city everyone will love to live in.