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Come high water, illegal housing residents remain

Children play in Old Fadama, Accra’s largest slum, Ghana, 13 September 2006. The slum houses more than 30,000 residents. With its dense housing and congested streets, there is little free space for children to play.
Children play in Accra's largest slum (Justin Moresco/IRIN)

After storms killed at least seven and displaced hundreds in in flood-prone areas in the Ghana capital of Accra, officials are confronted with the consequences of unregulated housing.

Authorities are analyzing information from a recent inter-ministerial assessment following a 19 June storm, according to National Management Disaster Organization (NADMO) spokesman Nicholas Mensah.

Flooding destroyed homes, shops and cars in the western part of Accra, including the neighbourhoods of Kaneshie, Malam, Mataheko, Sakaman and Darkuman – places where large groups of slum dwellers call home.

“City authorities have failed these victims,” Mensah told IRIN. “These houses [were] built in waterways and in unapproved locations…without the city planning authorities knowing [anything] about them. City authorities have simply failed to monitor and prevent these illegal structures from coming up.”

''City authorities have failed these victims''

The recently elected mayor of Accra, Alfred Vanderpuye, acknowledged the “failures” of housing developments in flood-prone areas. “I am going to review the operations of the town planning department to see how we can make [its] work more effective,” he told IRIN. “We cannot allow such impunity to continue.”

NADMO has pledged to take people living in illegal housing to court to force them out of high-risk areas.

But without affordable housing options, people are not likely to leave, according to International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) disaster response manager for West and Central Africa Norbert Allale. “It is not enough to tell people they need to move. They need to be given land and help to rebuild their homes. There is real need for government and partners [to provide] political engagement in a joint effort,” he told IRIN.

But NADMO’s Mensah told IRIN the state cannot reward an illegal act, even if city authorities are partly responsible. “If it is an illegality then the state cannot be burdened with providing alternative accommodation or land for affected persons.”

IFRC reinforced construction of more than 300 homes in northeast Ghana in 2007. Allale said these homes withstood 2008 flooding and provide an example of how communities can withstand annual rainstorms.

In a recently published profile of Ghana’s urban areas, UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) noted that despite the country’s halving of its overall hunger and poverty rates since 1990, urban poverty remains.

With an annual urban population growth rate in Ghana of 3 percent over the past two decades, the UN estimates that more than half of the country’s 21 million people live in cities – with 45 percent of them living in slums in 2003.

Ghana’s 2009 UN-Habitat urban profile noted that the failure to adopt “adequate” urban land and land management practices is a major cause of urban poverty. “Poor living conditions found in these urban centres include…shortage of essential facilities, disregard for approved land allocation regulation [and] a haphazard housing development structure.”


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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