Walking around New Town with the newly elected Assemblyman means walking around with a celebrity. It is impossible for this man, Honorary Alexander Mensah-Twumasi, to go for a quick walk somewhere as he knows and greets every single person along his track. Each neighbourhood selects a candidate, the assemblyman, to represent them at the council meetings. He/she forms a link between the community and the city council. In principle, the assemblyman should raise funds to develop his own area. But since the role is a voluntary commitment and he doesn’t get paid by the city council (which people in the community don’t often realize), it’s a difficult and noble task to take on. The assembly man is the person holding the most knowledge of the neighbourhood so we met with honorary Alexander last week to find out what happens during rain events. With his consent and input, we started our fieldwork in our first pilot area this week. We were lucky to have by our side 'student' Kofi Asare Aboagye, a civil engineer with a degree from KNUST (Ghana) and masters degree in sustainable urban management from Malmo University (Sweden).
New Town is a lower income neighbourhood of Accra. Many differences in types of residential area can be found here. There are five slums and a poor night market, where the most vulnerable community members reside. Many of the roads have been encroached on by shop owners, which are selling their products on top of wooden planks that cover the drains along the road. New Town does not have a complete and proper drainage system as some drains are completely missing. Last year during the rainy season, the area was hit by a serious pandemic. Lots of properties were damaged and lost. Many streams were carved out by erosion. Due to some private unwarranted constructions on top of an existing drain, complete structures were demolished by the built-up force of the water. There are settlements on the land most downstream of the pilot area (the catchment) which acts like a floodplain before it flows into the Odaw drain. The Assembly man showed us all these critical spots of the drainage system on Monday. He also told us about the human activities and attitude problems concerning waste disposal that are causing many of the clogging problems. If someone disposes or defecates in the drain and you ask him why, he will reply you: “Is that where you sleep?”
Along some surveyed tracks we see that the drains are very heterogeneous and stretches of natural channels connect to concrete U-shape drains, connect to eroded channels, etc. We find that some of the stretches of lined, concrete drains are constructed by private parties. As no improvements from the government ever consider these areas deep into the neighbourhood (just the drains along the main roads), they have taken measures to develop the drainage system to protect themselves. A group of friends who like to hang out on their favourite but frequently flooded patio, bought concrete and built a drain themselves to channel the water. Many churches have created proper drainage structures along their grounds. An old lady who lives downstream collects coconut fibres daily to strengthen the bank of the natural drain she lives beside. This way she protects her land from eroding away.
In two days we mapped a lots of drains and points and met even more people who were curious to find out about the delegation of very serious looking people in blue shirts. Everybody we meet truly appreciates the work we are doing which is making the hours we are spending mapping under the powerful sun in high El Niño temperatures so worth it.