Earthquakes or tremors can be a result of natural or manmade causes.
This occurrence could be devasting depending on its magnitude or intensity, it is even more worrying and bearing with it dire consequences if it occurs in the city.
Recent devastations caused by earthquakes in Turkey and Morocco leave much to be desired reinforcing a famous African proverb whose literal translation is “if you see your neighbour’s beard on fire do well to place a bowl of water near yours”. The need to adequately prepare for and to forestall disasters in the city cannot be overemphasized.
It is projected that by 2050, 68% of the world’s population will be living in urban centres. Ghana, like many countries within the Global South, is fast urbanizing giving a testament to the above assertion.
Ghana for instance moved from an urban population of 50.9% in 2010 to 56.7% In 2021 with almost half of the increase (47.8%) occurring in Greater Accra and Ashanti regions alone (PHC2021). The Greater Accra region is home to some 5,455,692 people (PHC2021). Owing to the transcaler nature of rapid urbanization, Governments and City Managers have committed to and formulated Policies and Programs to make city life resilient and sustainable.
The sustainability agenda is anchored on three pillars; Economic, Environmental and Social. This article focuses on the Environmental lap of the urban sustainability initiative with a focus on earthquakes and tremors in the city.
THE WHY: HISTORY OF EARTH QUAKES IN GHANA
Ghana is situated on the West African craton and far away from any plate boundary however the Southern part of the country is seismically active giving rise to the disturbing geographical and environmental issue of earth tremors occurring mostly within the urban space the of Greater Accra Region. this has been persistent over the last decade.
The nation has had some damaging earthquakes dating as far back as 1632 with the last three major ones occurring in 1862, 1906 and 1939. Amponsah, P. (2003), in his publication, recounted that the deadliest earthquake that struck the then Gold Coast causing a lot of damage, loss of life and property was the 22nd June 1939 earthquake in which seventeen persons lost their lives with someone hundred and thirty-three persons injured.
Its recorded magnitude was 6.5 on the Richter scale. Again, in 1997 alone, three major tremors were recorded on 8th January, 14, February and 6th of March in Accra.
Tremors are quite different from Earthquakes with the determining factor being its intensity when measured on the Richter scale. A measurement of a magnitude above 5 is classified as an earth quake while figures below that are classified as earth tremors.
A DECADE OF EARTH TREMOR
In the recent decade, there have been a number of earth tremors occurring at least every other year. The table below depicts the occurrence of earth tremors in some major cities in Ghana from the period of (2003-2023)
YEAR MAGNITUDE AREAS AFFECTED
May 2003, 3.8, Accra
May 2006, 3.7, Accra
Sept. 2007 5.2 Takoradi And Its Environs
March 2018, December 2018, 4.0, 2.6, Weija Broad Casting, Sampavalley, Scc, West Hill Mall Gbawe,Anyaa
June 2020, 4.0, Accra West
December 2022, 4.0, Kasoa, Gbawe, Mccarthy Hill, Legon Dansoman
March 2023, 2.8, Gbawe Weija, Mccarthy Hill
November 2023 Awoshie, Kasoa, Nyanyano, Kanda, Mallam, Gbawe, Bortianor, SCC
THE HOW: CAUSES OF EARTH QUAKE
Earthquakes and tremors in Ghana are concentrated in the southern part of the country; the Akwapim fault zones – comprise a northeast-southwest running system of fault. It is here the seismic recording stations are installed.
Some known causes of earthquakes and Tremors include.; Movement of Earth’s Tectonic plate, Volcanic Eruption, underground Nuclear Explosion (quarry and mineral mining).
The convergence of people in the city centre implies increased human activity like Quarry and sand winning amidst the usage of heavy land and moving equipment which exerts pressure on the land surface compromising the earth’s holding capacity.
Additionally, the deadly effects of unregulated transportation of explosive and underground exploration leaves much to be desired.
Ghana has been at the unfortunate receiving end of the result of this negligence with recent incidences in the Western Region. At Bogoso for instance the explosion brought to ruins the entire Apiatse community, another case in point was the quarry explosion near Shama.
This explosion claimed many lives including Company Owners and staff in addition to the damage to property within Shama and the surrounding communities who bore the brunt of the earth tremor. This particular incidence was a result of poor storage of quarry explosives.
There are however pockets of reported earth tremors due to explosives in other parts of the country, particularly the South.
THE WHAT: SAFETY MEASURES AND MITIGATION PLAN
Safety measures such as the Drop Hold Cover approach should be adopted coupled with a deliberate commitment from the Government, Urban planners and City Authorities.
DROP – HOLD – COVER is a safety protocol during earthquakes or tremors where persons experiencing an earthquake or tremor are to Drop to the ground, Hold on to something sturdy and Cover their head and neck to protect against falling objects @ggsa_official.
Law enforcement; The Minerals Commission should enforce the Mineral Mining Law to the latter. Adequate Sanctions should be meted out to recalcitrant Developers, Miners and individuals who flout the Government’s directive on Selling, Acquiring or Developing in earthquake or tremor-prone zones.
Again, collaboration between Urban Planners and Experts: Land Use and Spatial Planning Authority, Minerals Commission, Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources (MLNR), Metropolitan Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDA)s, Ghana Geological Survey Authority, Lands Commission and its allied agencies in managing the Geographical morphology of the Urban Space by zoning and protecting the fault zones against encroachment.
Additionally, The adoption and implementation of policy frameworks which were formulated with the city in mind is another great stride to make. Policies such as the New Urban Agenda of the UN Habitat III as well as the National Urban Policy and its implementation strategies will go a long way to make the urban space a safe haven for all.
Again, fashioning out projects after the like of GARID targeted at addressing Earth Tremor, Earth Quake and Exploration in the city will be pivotal. This will help ensure effectiveness in preventing and managing the effects of tremors and quakes on humans and property in situations where it cannot be avoided.
Finally, a resettlement plan; The Government must make committed plans to allocate funds for the evacuation and relocation of all persons within earthquake or tremor-prone zones as well as provide adequate compensations where necessary. This initiative should be treated as a matter of urgency.
Cities are the growth poles of every society calling for a collective effort to build and develop them. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs Agenda 2030) particularly goal 11 implores Governments and leaders to provide sustainable cities and communities for their urban dwellers with the vision to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
As cities expand increased human activities are unavoidable right from the emergence of built-up areas (housing needs), land encroachment, building on waterways, indiscriminate waste disposal to other illegal land activities for survival.
Disasters such as flooding, fire outbreaks, earthquakes and tremors also take a devastating toll on cities. The collaborative efforts of the Government and the Private Industry Players (PPP) to arrest the situation cannot be overemphasized.
Then again, seismologists, Disaster Managers and firefighters alike should be trained and adequately resourced to carry out their work efficiently while City Authorities regulate and monitor land use in the urban space to forestall any devasting occurrences and ensure the safety of the city and its dwellers.
Furthermore, citizens should be educated on early warning signs and sensitized on disaster prevention, they should be provided with a hotline to contact and a centre to report to in the case of a tremor. Earth
Tremors and disaster victims should be given psychological care as some could plunder into depression and perpetual fear due to the tremor.
Last but not least, implementing agencies should make use of existing policy frameworks to ensure the achievement of the city’s sustainability and resilience and to also apply sanctions when need be especially in the area of land acquisition and land usage lest future generations pose the question “Did development precede planning”?
AUTHOR: FREDA OWUSU – ANSAH
MSC URBAN STUDIES STUDENT
CENTER FOR URBAN MANAGEMENT STUDIES
UNIVERSITY OF GHANA