Three weeks ago, Houston was inundated with 10 inches of rain. Six people died, and another of others had to be rescued from flash flooded that swept away cars and filled homes. Last week, a lot of rain was dumped on Accra, Ghana though there is no report of how many inches were in the deluge. We don’t know how many people died, but estimates range from 150-200. About 100 of those were lost an explosion at a gas station where many people huddled, waiting for the rain to pass.
Ghana has about ½ as many people as Houston, yet 30 times as many people perished in a disaster that most people in America never even heard about. But the real pain and anger come from the fact that these deaths were preventable.
The Ghana Meteorological Society issued an alert around 6pm on the day of the flood but people were already out and about and the roads were impassable within an hour or two of the warning—it can easily take someone that long to get home here in ideal weather. Since it’s the rainy season, we receive warnings all the time and it’s hard to tell whether they mean anything. Plus, living hand-to-mouth has a whole new meaning here so staying home has its own set of deadly consequences. These factors plus poor drainage systems, lack of building codes, lack of emergency response, even lack of weather radar were a recipe for the typical rainy season to have deadly consequences.
Compared to Houston, Accra is poor. But there’s a lot more money here than is spent on infrastructure. Corruption is widespread and siphons millions of dollars from the public sector each year. Just this week, over $100,000 was embezzled from a teacher salary fund from a school district office by that district’s Director of education. But he won’t be arrested. He won’t even be fired. The stakes are low and it’s so common that it permeates everything.
The money that was stolen didn’t come from a big pool of unused funds, they come from the people who never received it in the form of better drainage or Doppler radar or traffic lights. It costs money to save lives. If money is never spent protecting citizens, then those citizens might feel like their lives aren’t being treated as valuable as they should be, a feeling that is expressed by many Ghanaians I know.
Put another way, people dying preventable deaths feels like a violation of a very basic tenet of human rights: all lives are valuable. What does that do to the psyche to mourn the death of a loved one who should not have been in danger? To know that somehow you were betrayed, though it’s not clear when or by whom?