An urban planner assesses the damaging impact of flooding and erosion on a poor migrant community in Kumasi, Ghana
by Aldrin B. Plaza
The country of Ghana in West Africa is susceptible to different kinds of disasters including plague and disease outbreak and floods caused by excessive rains. In 2007, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent reported the death of twenty-two persons and the displacement of 200,000 more individuals most of whom are farmers due to torrential rains which lasted for three weeks in the Upper East Region of Ghana. The City of Kumasi, Ghana’s second largest city located in the Ashanti Region, and its peri-urban areas are not spared from the devastating effects of these floods.
In Kumasi the growth of peri-urban communities depends very much on their proximity to the city center and also to their adjoining areas and the activities therein. The city is almost at the center of Ghana and is traversed by a number of major road networks making it susceptible to migration. For the City of Kumasi, a peri-urban interface area is defined as places “with presence of bush/fallow agricultural land, but with competition for land from non-agricultural uses” and is determined as areas from 4 to 47 km from the center of Kumasi (Brook and Davilla, 2000). One of these peri-urban villages in Kumasi is the community of Ayigya, a suburb of Kumasi under the Ofirokorm sub-metro located about 5 km from the Kumasi City center. This study focused on the areas located in the Old Ayigya – Ayigya Zongo and Ayigya Ahimbono.
Ayigya started as an area occupied by about ten families in the 1950s. When migrants from the north of Ghana seeking a better life started to look for areas where they could build settlements, the then Chief of Ayigya allowed them to settle on the other side of their hill settlement. This place is what is now referred to as Ayigya Zongo which literally means “migrant’s village”. In Ghana, all lands are under the stewardship (and ownership) of the Chiefs and other such traditional rulers (in the case of the Ashanti Region where Kumasi is situated, all lands are owned by the Ashanti King). So all matters pertaining to land use and allocation would first have to get the approval of the Chief, and if given approval, a lease certificate of 99 years is given to the individual or entity (50 years if the individual or entity is a foreigner or foreign-owned).
Almost all of the settlers in Ayigya Zongo are Muslims while the original settlers in the Ayigya Ahimbono area follow a traditional religion where priests also play a role in the village’s traditional and political affairs along with the Chief. A shrine built by the original settlers located on the topmost portion of Ayigya still exists to this day. This shrine, as stated by the traditional priests, serves as the home of the souls of their ancestors. It is situated on a high area because they believe that their ancestors will continue to watch over them from the shrine. At present, Ayigya Ahimbono’s population has a large number of Christians due to the influx of renters in the area. Although the Town and Country Planning Department (TCPD) made plans in 1967 and 1978 to develop the suburb community of Ayigya, its development was dictated by the traditional rulers (the Chiefs) and the demand for low-cost rental housing for the employees and also students of the Kwameh Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST). Basic infrastructure services such as water supply and drainage are lacking and the buildings are made up of only a few multiple storey buildings, with most buildings being single-storey compound houses which are rented out to multiple tenants. These compound houses have an average occupancy of about 12 families.
The study from which this article was derived was done from January to September 2009 and was also part of a joint project entitled Working on Cities* between the Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies of the Erasmus University Rotterdam (IHS-EUR), the Rotterdam Academy of Architecture and Urban Design (AVBR), and the Kwameh Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi, Ghana. Specifically, this study was done to analyse the possible interventions on infrastructure development and environment management that could be incorporated in the slum-upgrading concept plan for Ayigya particularly on addressing the possible impacts of flooding and erosion.
Based on the field surveys, review of relevant secondary information, and interviews with households and experts, the area that experiences annual deep flooding in Old Ayigya is relatively small (estimated to be 3.3 hectares or 6% of the total land area of 55 hectares). However, erosion caused by rainwater surface runoff is the bigger concern in Ayigya. From the analysis of the findings, the following are the environmental and physical factors causing flood and erosion in Ayigya:
Inadequate Support Infrastructure. The study area is being serviced by an estimated total road length of 8.07 km based on the transect walk and data from available maps. Of this, only an estimated 2.57 km. or 31.9% have open drainage canals that convey rainwater to the nearby rivers and streams.
Ayigya Zongo’s Natural Environment. Based on the analysis of available maps the land form of Ayigya Zongo is actually a small valley formation formed between two hills. This also explains the deeply eroded road and deep gully formations near this area. The topsoil in Ayigya is what is commonly called as “hardpant” or concrete latirite as it is traditionally used as a material for building houses and has an absorptive characteristic. The layer underneath the topsoil is a hard layer of either felites or granite. Both have gritty properties and very low absorptive capacity. That is why when the topsoil is washed away, the exposed layers turn brittle when hit by rain, causing gradual erosion and exposing and weakening the foundations of the houses causing them to collapse.
Vulnerabilities and Potential Impacts
Based on field observation, the residents of Ayigya have so far been able to make only temporary solutions to keep their houses safe from the impact of torrential rains, flooding and erosion. The problem also has its roots in their traditional method of housing construction which makes use of mud for the foundations and walls of their houses. Mud is gathered from the topsoil surrounding their plots and also within their compounds. This practice has caused the soil to erode faster due to the disturbance of the soil’s natural formation and the pressure from the weight of the houses’ structures.
The houses in Ayigya (and in most part of Ghana) have short roof overhangs (usually only about 600 to 800 mm) compared to the standard set by the 1989 Ghana Building Code which is at least 1.2 meters (1200 mm). According to the experts interviewed, the reason for doing this is simply to minimize the cost of installing the roof. However, these short overhangs also leave the mud walls exposed to rain, weakening them especially the unplastered portions. The rainwater falling from the short overhangs also wither away the soil surrounding the structure. In combination with the build-up of surface water runoff, this causes the soil to erode and expose the building’s foundations.
The following are the other potential socio-economic impacts of flooding and erosion:
Disruption of classes of school children and service access. The families affected by deep flooding in Ayigya Zongo usually just stay at home when floods occur and just wait till the waters subside or at least until their means of access is passable. But as long as the flood waters are there, all of them do nothing, and sometimes even eat nothing if food runs out, and even the school-going children are not able to attend classes.
Possible displacement of settlers located on “valley” areas. If no measures (whether structural or policy interventions) will be done to control erosion and rainwater runoff, the further expansion of drainage gullies will continue, leading to more erosion, collapsing houses and changes in land form, and potential displacement of settlers.
Increased incidence of malaria cases. With the possible expansion of areas that experience annual flooding and poor drainage, stagnant water would mean proliferation of mosquitoes, and the possible increase of incidents of malaria among the Ayigya settlers.
Disruption of livelihood of individuals and families whose income depend on trading and other microenterprises. Flooding disrupts their livelihood activities as they are not able to go out of their houses and trade or go about their businesses. Even if they are able to trade or do business, there would be fewer potential customers which would mean lower income.
Accumulating long-term expenses on house maintenance due to low-cost temporary solutions. Aside from the fact that most landlords delegate to their tenants the maintenance of their rental units, residents often resort to temporary, low-cost preventive solutions to the possible damage that erosion might cause to their houses. Although no amount in figures can be given to support this, considering that erosion started occurring more than 30 years ago, the accumulated costs of these temporary solutions could have been used to make more expensive but longer lasting solutions.
Continued dependence on credit/loan to augment the financial losses for capital of micro-enterprises. Due to livelihood disruption and costs of house maintenance, many individuals resort to credit/loan to finance the capital for their small business as incidents of flooding have caused them to live without income for several days. This also means that the money that is supposed to be spent for another day’s capital would be spent on buying food and other necessities to recover from the damage caused by flooding and erosion. In addition, the study also revealed that little or no assistance is being given by the government to post disaster rehabilitation in Ayigya.
The study has five main recommendations based on the findings and analysis of the socio-economic vulnerabilities of the Ayigya community, as follows:
- House improvements should be made through approved alternative methods. This is in response to houses continuing to collapse due to poor building technologies. To date, some researches are being conducted in Kumasi such as improved use of mud as a building material and also the use of bamboo as a building material.
- Structural measures should be in place particularly road and drainage works. Proper drainage should be constructed especially in Ayigya Zongo where rainwater runoff flows freely into the streets and alleys causing floods in some areas and gradual erosion. Free flowing water runoff also seeps into the structures causing them to weaken and collapse after some time.
- Emergency preparedness strategies, including the establishment of disaster volunteer group(s) at the community level, should be put in place. The disaster preparedness strategies of Ghana mandates each village to have an established disaster volunteer group (DVG) which would serve as the first line of response at the community level in times of natural or man-made disasters. Unfortunately, not even a single DVG has been established in Ayigya.
- Raising awareness on sanitation. Many people in Ayigya do not give much importance to maintaining clean surroundings. There are even areas where effluent from household and public toilets flow freely out into the streets. These conditions are a threat to health conditions of the people and could be aggravated during floods as effluent could be drawn out further to other areas within and around Ayigya.
- Provision of social safety nets at the sub-metro level of government. At present, the functions of the sub-metro governments are collecting taxes and other means of revenue for the government. The sub-metros don’t even have planning and project implementation functions. Strengthening the roles and functions of the sub-metros by expanding their functions to include social welfare provision would enable the National and Metropolitan governments to reach the community. However, strengthening the relationships of the sub-metro levels with the traditional rulers is imperative for this to be successful as even the government’s endeavours has to have the authority of the Chief(s).
*Working on Cities is the project entry of IHS -EUR , AVBR and KNUST to the 4th International Architecture Bienalle Rotterdam. The project garnered 2nd place from among 54 entries from different universities in Europe, North and South America, and Africa.
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About the Author
Aldrin Plaza is currently working as a freelance urban planner and researcher, and is a registered Mechanical Engineer and Environmental Planner. This article is based on his thesis entitled “Empirical Assessment of adaptive capacity of low-income communities to the impacts of climate change and flooding: The case of Ayigya in Kumasi, Ghana” done for his Master of Science in Urban Management and Development at the Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies-Erasmus University Rotterdam, Netherlands, in 2009. He has had twelve years of combined professional work experience in projects involving urban and regional development and land use planning. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Mapua Institute of Technology, and also has a post-graduate degree of Master of Arts in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of the Philippines- Diliman. For more info, email the author at email@example.com.
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