Hundreds Dead in Ghana Infrastructure Failure

municipal workers cleaning massive open sewers. accra, ghana, photo by z/Flickr

municipal workers cleaning massive open sewers. accra, ghana, photo by z/Flickr

GHANA, Accra - In a similar pattern to other African capitals, Accra has snowballed to four million residents, doubling in size within the last 20-years. This growth means that Ghana's capital has a growing population that increasingly puts pressure on a city that still relies on a colonial-era drain and sewage system that covers only 15% of the city.

The weak system of open sewers and water streams leading out of the city are further impeded by the massive amounts of trash that have collected in them over the years. Due to this congested network, heavy rains and tropical storms in the area cause massive, widespread flooding across the capital that in turn results in casualties, ruined infrastructure and new disasters.

Earlier this month, a flood in Accra caused many people to take cover at a gas station. However, their refuge was foiled by the horribly poor infrastructure in the country as torrential rains seeped into the underground fuel tanks, and once accidentally lit, resulted in over 200 deaths.

After such a horrible accident, President John Mahama chose the next day to credit the disaster to zoning and gutters filled with debris, instead of bringing more of the weight onto political leadership. The government's track record is hard to ignore, though, as millions have been poured into the country over the years specifically for infrastructure, yet little is to be shown for it. There was the Korle Lagoon Ecological Restoration Project, worth $160 million, that was supposed to remove trash from the waterway and restore it to its pristine original state. Years later, mounds of debris remain and the lagoon continues to flood whenever it rains.

In a bizarre, similar scenario, the Ghanaian government promised the people a $595 million Drainage Alleviation Project, funded through the US' Import-Export Bank. The project would include storm drains, trash collection systems and a waste water treatment plant. The government launched the life-changing project with a grand ceremony in 2013, but as it turns out, they had not even applied for the loan yet.

Based on the millions of dollars of funding that have made it to the country, alongside the promises of the country's leadership, Ghanaians are left wondering what has happened to the proposed projects. Deaths and destruction from an issue that could be mitigated by proper drainage is inexcusable, and a clear display of leaders' lack of resolve and dedication to the country's water and sanitation systems.

Ramadan: Airplanes, Athletes, and Reality TV

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ACCRA, Ghana -- Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting and contemplation, began on June 28th.

Until recently, the concept of this religious event was distant to me as there isn't a large Muslim population in my North Carolina home.  However, since coming to work in Accra, the capital and largest city of Ghana, my interactions with Muslim people has increased.

I work next to a lovely Muslim village full of women in brightly colored Hijabs, and have witnessed demonstrations of peaceful coexistence, when in every conference that I attend, the opening prayer is done by a Christian and the closing prayer given by a Muslim.

Under terms of Ramadan, Muslims must fast from sunrise to sunset. This fast means no food and in some cases no water, but it's also a time of restraint for other things, such as personal vices, unkind thoughts, and angry actions.

While I am not partaking of the fast myself, but out of respect me and many non-Muslims choose not to eat in public during Ramadan. Until I restricted my public eating habits, I never realized he availability of food. Vendors in every corner, sales ladies walking through traffic jams balancing baskets of bread or fruit or candy on their heads and selling their wares to people in cars, bicyclers pushing ice-cream carts.... All forbidden during Ramadan.

Even though it clearly requires a great deal of restraint, at least it seems pretty straightforward -- a time of self-sacrifice and re-devotion to Allah, a time to cut out the bad and nurture the good. However, the blessed month can come with some unexpected twists and hurdles.

For instance, while traveling. Technically, the Quran gives a pass to travelers, suggesting they keep up their strength for he journey and make up the missed days later. However, many Muslims continue adhering to as many guidelines as possible.  Timing is important during Ramadan, and a hassle for anyone flying through time zones. There is a time for prayers, a time for fasting, and a time for Suhoor (pre-fasting meal) and Iftar (meal to break the fast.) In places with a heavy Muslim population, there are public announcements or alerts reminding Muslims of the time.

I was caught off guard while watching TV last week when my regularly scheduled programming switched suddenly to play Arabic music and show a passage from the Qur'an. However, those mid-flight have a bit more trouble than those at home watching TV.  Luckily, airlines are usually sympathetic.  Recently, Emirates announced that along with providing traditional Muslim sunrise and sunset meals, with items such as vegetable samosas, dates and baklava, it would also be using a special tool that calculated latitude, longitude and altitude to provide the most accurate possible timing for the ceremonies.

Back on solid ground, athletes may also have problems.  This year, Ramadan coincides with the World Cup, which causes some Muslim players extra difficulties.  On the other hand, the Qur'an does give an exemption to warriors about to go into battle, so perhaps Football is covered in that fine print.  Ramadan's timing may even have affected betting odds on teams, as some suggested teams from Muslim regions might have performance issues.  France, Germany, Belgium, and Algeria all had prominent Muslim players and, in my humble opinion, they all played admirably, fast or no fast.  That may be thanks to a special team of nutritionists FIFA provided to advise the fasting players.

As well as lack of food and hydration fears, disrupted sleep schedules (for nighttime prayers) may result in athletes not being up to par. In the past, some coaches held nighttime practices so the players could be well nourished during practice, so at least the nutrition issue would be solved, if not the disrupted sleep issue. Especially in hotter regions, it isn't uncommon for any Muslim to burn the midnight oil during Ramadan, which unfortunately can lead to an increase in car accidents during the month.

On the other hand, in Brazil sun up to sundown is only 12 hours, so if athletes make sure their sunrise meal is adequate and they start the day hydrated, it shouldn't be a problem.  In the Netherlands, however, Muslims would have to be much hardier, as a day lasts almost 20 hours there this time of year. Australian Muslims have it easiest, with only ten hours of fasting.

Perhaps one of the more bizarre results of the clash of modernity and Ramadan is its recent mingling with Reality TV.  Though not without its share of controversy, as some think the TV personalities don't present the proper air of modesty and good taste representative of the faith.  However, some shows are better than others, and such idiosyncrasies vary from show to show.

For example, one where teens try to recite the longest passage from the Qur'an to win prizes, or shows where gifts of charity are awarded specifically to those less fortunate, to the "ever popular" cooking shows that in this instance, focus on Suhoor and Iftar -- each with the apparent intent of declaring that even the oldest and most sacred traditions can keep pace with changing times.

If you are not partaking in Ramadan, please be considerate to those who are.  Know that employees may need time off and it's not a "holiday" or "vacation" -- it requires dedication, commitment, and adjustment.  Extra attention to charity or one's family life, as well as daily prayers, require a more flexible schedule and understanding colleagues.  If in a Muslim neighborhood or workplace, be discrete in your dress and eating habits. And try to eat an Iftar feast if you get the opportunity.

To our Muslim readers: Ramadan Kareem!

WHO, West African Ministers of Health Develop Ebola Strategy

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Sarah Joanne Jakubowski, Ghana CorrespondentLast Modified: 13:50 p.m. DST, 07 July 2014

Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Photo by Photo by International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

ACCRA, Ghana -- Last week an Emergency Ministerial Meeting was held in Accra to discuss the growing Ebola epidemic.

The disease, which can have up to a 90% fatality rate, started in rural Guinea then spread to neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone. Without intervention, it will continue its international invasion.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says the proposed strategy to treat, control and prevent Ebola will cost $10 million and would need to be put into place within the next six months.

Representatives called on the African Union and The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for the funds.

The plan would set up an Ebola treatment and research center in Guinea as well as smaller centers in other affected areas. Funds will go to training and deploying staff, providing medical equipment and supplies to affected or at-risk regions and educating the public.

An emphasis was placed on research, both to develop treatments and cures and also social research to gauge public understanding and reaction to the disease. However, Africa's research facilities were described as "weak" and a request for global collaboration among scientists was issued.

When asked if border control was a viable solution to control the spread of the disease, the idea of country-wide quarantines was shot down.

Ministry of Health & Social Welfare (MOHSW) Liberia explained that there were so many border crossing points it would be impractical to watch all of them. The Minister went on to say that while his country was able to stop several travelers who were carrying the disease, there were many false positives and possibly cases where infected travelers were not yet showing symptoms and so got through. A key problem was that Ebola can incubate unnoticed for up to 21-days in a seemingly healthy person.

Some traditional practices can help spread diseases, and doctors across the region are urging people to seek assistance from trained doctors or one of the international organizations that are on the ground providing help, education, and intervention. Organizations such as UNICEF Liberia, The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), and Medicins Sans Frontieres.

These organizations in conjunction with local doctors and government health officials urged all West African citizens to take precautions when handling the sick and deceased. Practices involving delayed burials and prolonged contact with the dead facilitate disease spread.

"People don't know what they're dealing with" explained, emphasizing the need to especially educate churches, those whose jobs involve handling the dead, as well as the need to educate family members about Ebola so that the sick can seek immediate treatment to avoid infecting others.

This is a very urgent issue, and though citizens in the West may feel that they are immune from this disease, it takes just one person to breach the borders of any Asia, Middle East, European Union, or North/South American countries for the deadly virus to become a global pandemic.

Follow Sarah on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Africa Correspondent: @SJJakubowski

Ghana Mourns President John Atta Mills

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 11:35 PM EDT, 24 July 2012

ACCRA, Ghana — Beloved Ghanaian President John Atta Mills died in a military hospital located in the capital of Accra on 24 July 2012.

Mills governed the country from 2009 to 2012 and had planned to run for a second term on 7 December 2012.

President Mills is the first Ghanaian head of state to die in office, and immediately following the announcement of his passing, Vice President John Dramani Mahama was sworn in to finish the remaining five months of Mills' term.

Mills was a seasoned political official serving in various capacities within the Ghanaian government after a 25-year tenure as a law professor at the University of Ghana. Shortly before becoming president he served as vice president of President J.J. Rawlings who was widely regarded as a military dictator.

The 2009 election was Mills’ third run for the highest office in the nation, and though the election was extremely close, independent observers praised the process as free and fair which resulted in a peaceful transition of power. Under Mills’ leadership Ghana experienced strong economic gains to become one of the fastest growing economies in Africa.

According to Reuters, Mills reiterated his commitment to political stability during a visit with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House in March. Many Ghanaians are devasted by the loss of this pragmatic leader who recognized that success is not so much about power as it is about peace and mutual benefit.

”When there is no peace, it is not the leaders who suffer; it is the ordinary people who have elected us into office. So we have a big challenge, and we know that some of our friends in Africa are looking up to us, and we dare not fail them." (President John Atta Mills)

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Nigeria Mourns Plane Crash & Suicide Bomber Victims

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 13:04 PM EDT, 4 June 2012

Nigeria Airline, Photo by Rick SchlampLAGOS, Nigeria - A Dana Airlines plane in route from Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja to Lagos State crashed in the Agege suburban as it made its final approach into Murtala Muhammed Airport. The death toll has not been confirmed, however, thus far 146 passengers, 7 crew members and 10 people on the ground have been identified as deceased.

This was the second tragedy to hit Nigeria on Sunday, 3 June 2012. Christians attending services in the Northern Bauchi State, which has previously been terrorized by the extreme Islamist group Boko Haram, were attacked by a suicide bomber who drove his car into the church killing 15 attendees and himself. (Source: ABS-CBN News)

This smaller tragedy has been eclipsed by the Lagos plane crash which still has an unknown number of casualties on the ground because of the wide swathe of carnage the plane crashed left in its wake. The pilot who is reported to be a U.S. citizen and the copilot an Indian, both died in the crash, despite the fact that stunned witnesses said the sky was clear and the weather sunny.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJ3I7lhTjyk]

This plane crash was foreboded by a crash on Saturday involving another Nigerian aircraft which departed Lagos for its neighboring country, Ghana, where it overshot the runway and crashed at the International Airport in Accra. In that incident, 10 people on the ground are confirmed dead.

According to sources, a representative from the Nigeria's Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) said that they are still trying to locate the black box to determine what occurred in the minutes before the crash, however, with endemic corruption and two plane crashes in as many days, stringent investigations into the maintenance of the planes and certifications of the pilots should be vigorously pursued.

Additionally, an investigation into the role, if any that air traffic controllers may have played in this tragedy needs to be investigated. Intermittent power outages across the country, as well as failures of redundant Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS) which are often powered by the state's electrical power grid or diesel have a history of going off-line thereby causing significant problems.

Some report that these failures have often resulted in radar tracking being unavailable for the duration of these outages.

Nigeria's aviation industry, which had one of the world's worst safety records before 2006, worked to improve it after an ADC Airlines plane crashed that year near Abuja, killing 97 people, Harro Ranter, president of the Flight Safety Foundation's Aviation Safety Network, said in a telephone interview from Roosendaal, Netherlands. (Source: SF Gate)

Fires continue to erupt around the crash site, as jet fuel burns throughout the decimated suburb where rubble continues to smolder. Firefighters and locals are working feverishly to locate any on the ground survivors.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan declared three days of national mourning on Sunday night for all who lost their lives in the Dana plane crash.

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Twitter: @nahmias_report Editor: @ayannanahmias