Opinion: Urban Resilience As A Crucial Factor Of Success In Accra

Accra Ghana
Credit: eva_lutter, FlickR
M. Adjei Sowah, Mayor of Accra

By M. Adjei Sowah, Mayor of Accra. Mayor Sowah was recently named one of Apolitical’s 100 Most Influential People in Climate Policy.

The 21st Century is the era of cities. Figures from the United Nations show that more than half of the world’s population currently reside in urban centres, a number expected to reach 70% by 2050. Some of the fastest rates of urbanisation will occur in Sub-Saharan Africa. Accra is neither immune to rapid urbanisation nor to the complex challenges that come with it; in fact, recent accelerated growth and an associated population increase has effectively outpaced urban planning. As we look ahead, our adoption of a resilience lens to urban planning will be a crucial factor of success in achieving a strong future for Accra.

Building resilience for Accra, means bringing together systems, institutions, and all the resources with which we are endowed. This will enable our city to prepare for and become more responsive to acute and slow-burning disasters, especially in vulnerable communities. In late March we released Accra’s Resilience Strategy, a roadmap and an action plan towards becoming the city that we have long desired. The strategy’s 27 concrete initiatives will help us mitigate and build back better after emergencies like the 2015 blackouts and GOIL station explosion, 2014 cholera outbreak, and 2012 Melcom shopping mall collapse. The strategy will also be transformational when it comes to stresses experienced on a daily or cyclical basis, such as rainy season flooding.

While Accra has a longstanding history of flooding, recent inundations have grown more frequent and more destructive – and this is only expected to get worse as the intensity of rainfall, rainwater flow, and coastal flooding all increase as a result of climate change. The Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) has initiated important actions to prepare the city’s bodies of water for this year’s rainy season, including dredging the drainage system of the Odaw River that runs through Accra, and de-silting the Korle Lagoon which connects the Odaw to the Gulf of Guinea. Yet flooding in our city cannot be addressed without also considering waste and sanitation. Improper waste management – including collection, transportation, and disposal – is one of the most significant contributors to flooding in Accra. The city’s natural and man-made water drainage systems are often clogged with solid waste, blocking water-flow and causing flooding. As Accra has grown, both in extent and population, the drainage network and infrastructure has lagged behind.

Accra’s Resilience Strategy puts forward a number of integrated, crosscutting initiatives to tackle the dangerous intersection between flooding, poor waste management, and disease epidemics. With this resilience purview, innovations in waste management will also provide flood management benefits and prioritize citizen engagement in the process. For example, the AMA will work with community members to strengthen drain design and performance, with the aim of reducing the amount of flooding we experience in times of heavy rainfall and the potential health challenges that confront faced by our people based on this confluence.

Another group of initiatives seeks to get to the source of the issue by improving waste collection, which currently only benefits 70% of households. The waste landfill sites used by the city are all located over 35 kilometres away from Accra’s city centre. Significant amounts of uncollected waste can be sighted around the city when there is a challenge at either of the landfill sites. Waste collected by the many informal operators that service the close to 30% households not covered by the door to door collection services are sometimes dumped Illegally. Building multiple micro waste transfer stations and a minimum of two larger transfer stations at strategic locations, accessible to all waste collectors serving the Accra Metropolitan Area, will help relieve those burdens and halt the practice of illegally dumping waste. These designated transfer stations will also play a critical role for informal waste collectors, whose smaller, more nimble vehicles are ideal for navigating many of Accra’s markets and informal settlements, but which cannot travel the long haulage distances to existing final disposal sites. By building better infrastructure for both formal and informal waste collectors, we are creating a seamless system that supports the City’s goal of 100% waste collection coverage by 2030 at the household level.

These are just a few examples of how the AMA will use its new Resilience Strategy to create a smart, resilient, and sustainable city. The strategy’s 3 pillars, 8 goals, and 27 initiatives support Accra’s vision of transforming the city’s challenges into opportunities: by embracing informality as an engine of growth, designing infrastructure to improve our natural and built environments, and optimising our resources and systems for greater efficiency, accountability, and transparency.

The Strategy is not meant to sit on a shelf, and its implementation will require significant coordination and collaboration, similar in many regards to the efforts required to develop this ambitious vision for resilience. As resilience challenges are very rarely contained by jurisdictional boundaries, we are committed to greater partnership with neighbouring Metropolitan and Municipal District Assemblies that together form the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area (GAMA). Issues affecting Accra’s metropolitan district are visible throughout GAMA, and the Accra Metropolitan Assembly is well positioned to provide regional leadership on resilience efforts.

While rapid urbanisation presents a host of complex challenges for the residents and administration of both Accra and its surrounding area, it also represents an opportunity, highlighting the metropolitan region’s pull as an engine of economic growth and an important gateway into West Africa. Accra’s Resilience Strategy demonstrates our city’s visionary role and establishes us as regional leaders in addressing the challenges of rapid urbanisation that we, like many of our neighbouring cities, face.

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