Ghana’s flood victims blame government for overflowing dam destruction

Last month, a government-owned electricity company deliberately spilled water from its dam, displacing tens of thousands

Janet Ofeforpa was at her family cassava farm in south-east Ghana when overflowing water from the nearby Akosombo hydro-electric dam unexpectedly came rushing onto her land.

In a panic, she ran home to gather her children and the few belongings they could salvage and fled to higher ground.

The family is now among the more than 26,000 displaced by the floods. They are sheltering at a local school, unsure when or how they will be able to return to their land and rebuild.

“I have three children and I’m the only one who takes care of them”, Ofeforpa told Climate Home outside the school shelter. “One of them is Delali who I was helping prepare to go to university. All those preparations were taken away.”

Janet Ofeforpa outside the school she and her family are sheltering in in Mepe (Photo: Elikem Akpalu)

Ofeforpa lives in Mepe, one of the towns that was hardest hit. Entire homes were flattened, crops were wiped out, schooling was put on hold and the flooding of toilets, cemeteries and rubbish dumps has led to a surge in typhoid and cholera cases.

The flooding happened because heavy rains had increased the volume of water in the Akosombo dam dangerously close to its limit.

In September, the government-owned electricity company which manages the dam – the Volta River Authority (VRA) – began what it calls a “controlled spillage” of water from the reservoir.

This is a standard practice after heavy rainfall that typically doesn’t have a significant impact on downstream communities. But this time it caused the worst destruction since the dam was built in the 1960s.

Climate change’s role

The kind of unpredictable and heavy rainfall which filled up the reservoir has become the new norm in West Africa, which scientists link to climate change.

But many locals allege the disaster was the result of government negligence too, with the VRA failing to properly warn people their homes may flood.

Togbe Korsi Nego VI, the Chief of Mepe, spoke to Climate Home from his home, where local volunteers had gathered to help distribute donated water sachets, rice and sleeping mats. His phone rang constantly.

“This is not a natural disaster. This is a man-made disaster,” he said. He added that “nobody came to warn us” and “the government has refused to take responsibility”.

Togbe Korsi Nego VI, the chief of Mepe, sits on his throne (Photo: Elikem Akpalu)

Were they warned?

The VRA says it did put out warnings and deputy minister Freda Prempeh accused victims of ignoring them.

The VRA’s website claims that on September 8, it notified “key stakeholders” of potential spillage in the coming days.

Four days later, they issued a press release “notifying the public of the consistent rise in water levels and the need to commence spilling”.

A car is destroyed by flood waters (Photo: Elikem Akpalu)

But this didn’t reach everyone. Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa is the member of parliament for North Tongu, which includes Mepe.

Despite his position, he told Climate Home he was not among the “key stakeholders” that VRA says it warned on September 8.

“They kept us in the dark,” he said. “I just saw a press statement on the twelfth of September [but] they didn’t talk about the water volumes [or] how significant this will be.”

Accusing the VRA of “recklessness and negligence”, he added “nobody came here to engage communities, to prepare us to evacuate”.

Lessons to learn

Ghana is not the only country where warnings have failed to reach those who need them.

In August 2021, 12 disabled people drowned in a care home in Germany when the River Ahr burst its banks, and the local district authority was accused of ordering an evacuation to

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