MAN, MINING, REAL ESTATE, AND DISREGARD FOR VEGETATION

When we look at our cities today, we can clearly see the interplay of interests contesting for power, positions and influence in shaping it.  Aside governments, real estate developers, slum dwellers, and others are carving out the design of our cities. The physical manifestation of these big forces is what has created the language of our cities.

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Months ago, I was taking a stroll in our capital (Accra). I saw different billboards of developers showcasing their products. To satisfy my curiosity, I tried to deconstruct some of the terminologies used on the billboards, as baits to get customers. I know you are now equally abreast with terms like the following:  Green space, 1000 trees, cooler homes – and many more.

While the ‘sales literature’ tries to promise “a rare harmonious mix of privacy and community, nature and culture, tranquility and excitement”, why would anyone destroy a lot of vegetation, and later use this ‘vegetation’ as a selling code?

Upon studying in China, I observe the similar marketing gimmicks at play. This time, I felt the disconnect symbiotic relationship between nature and civilization in urban areas.

It would be wrong to undermine the effect of slums in our country. However, it is important to look closely at how current developers (private and government) are commodifying fresh air, trees and serene environment as a luxury goods!

When I walk done memory lane to the time of my childhood, I can say pure air, trees and serene environment was never something hard to come by. We lived with them! But, now, all these have been replaced with bricks and blocks. We have seen it with gated communities, high-rise building, studios, and apartments.

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For how long are state agencies going to issue permits to developers to cut down our vegetation all in the name of development? Few years back, Ghanaians fought the proposed ecotourism project that targeted the Achimota forest. The said forest has for so many years helped curb runoff during rains, and given the communities around oxygen and health.  The project was only abandoned after it came into the media, and received the bashing of well-meaning Ghanaians. The case of the Achimota Forest and now the Atewa Forest for mining is one and same: the greed of a few to make money at the expense of environmental considerations. The Atewa forest is in the deals with a mining proposal estimated to scoop 150 million tonnes of bauxite. It faces a lot of backlash from different stakeholders.

But the major concern is one that is inclined to wanton destruction of small vegetations every day in the name of development. And in return, the same vegetation which mostly are artificial are used as a unique selling point to us!

We are not blind to the benefits we get from real estate development such as broad internal roads, walkable streets with footpaths, 24/7 utilities supply, public spaces, multi-level security and conveniences like shopping, entertainment, hospitals and schools. Whiles majority of these are projects are well-thought through, the concern about the projects are that they are orchestrated for benefit of few elitists without regards for its repercussions on the environment.

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All over the world today, climate change is a burning issue today. If we want to combat climate change, we have to hold all stakeholders accountable. It should not be limited to the end product of most manufacturing industries (with regards to plastic waste) but also unwarranted developments that threaten our urban decency, vegetative cover, and our social fabric. If most of our developments are well negotiated, we could solve slum developments in the long run.

For us to thrive in sustainability and combat climate changes, we have to change our behavior, systems and laws.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

ERNEST TSIFODZE

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Ernest Tsifodze is an editor of the Saasepedia team .He is also an author, motivational speaker and real estate learner.

 

 

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ACCRA’S RAINFALL… RE-ENACTMENT OF RITUAL SHAME

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Accra has tried not to be immune to floods. Every year, at the onset of the rains, even the slightest of rainfall, the capital city of Ghana floods. They shame us. They portray how we have not prioritized planning, let alone care about the safety of the people.

Even more painful is the spectre of politicians and leaders who have failed, keep failing, and will fail, taunt-tour areas floods have chocked, killed, destroyed and wiped out livelihood and bonds. After the cameras are shut and their content shown, nothing gets down!

On 3rd June, 2015, a painful tragedy occurred. It was a twin disaster (flood and fire). In that disaster, 152 lives were burnt due to an explosion at a fuel filling station. This misfortune followed an unprecedented downpour in Accra, Ghana’s capital. Macabre images of the incidence linger in the mind of many – families, friends, citizens and the international community. For the immediate families, it is a personal scar etched in their hearts forever.

Many questions were raised in the aftermath of the tragedy. Many promises and assurance came along too. In truth, with regards to Accra’s perennial floods, some actions have been taken, although little and slow.  Yet, many other proposals are pending till today. Many areas of the city are waiting on the government for a pragmatic approach to tackle the root cause of devastating floods.

Almost always, the solutions to problems are deemed to be government’s sole responsibility. This way of thinking is not in line with participatory democratic practices.  Citizens, more than ever, are also responsible in finding long lasting solution to this problem.

In 2012, $595 USD million was advanced to the government as a loan by U.S EXIM Bank for a project in Accra dubbed ‘Sanitary Sewer and Stormwater Drainage’. To date, there has not been any tangible outcome from this project. There is really no effective means of grappling with the flood in the city and every year, the situation gets worse.

Currently, the World Bank is providing the Government full funding to tackle the flood situations in Accra. This time, the project has been dubbed ‘Greater Accra Resilient Project’ (GARI Project).  The first phase which will cost $200 US million will tackle the engineering challenges and poor drainage systems. While this initiative sounds good, implementation remains to be seen. Governments in Africa are quick to announce exciting policies and programmes yet show little results as far as implementation is concern.

The observation above is right because for decades, there has been a lot of infrastructure development ranging from roads to buildings. These projects have given Accra a facelift. Nevertheless, rapid urbanisation, coupled with other socio-economic factors, requires much investment in infrastructure.  According to World Population Review, 2.27 million people are living in Accra with approximately 56% of the population under the age of 24. This gives an accurate picture of the quest for opportunities in the city by youth.  Housing condition of the urban poor in the city is a problem with evidence of settlements dotted on waterways. Some of their settlements are usually seen in areas prone to flood. A typical example are settlements along the Odaw- Korle drainage basin. Thus, in the final analysis, settlers in these low-lying, poverty-stricken areas become vulnerable to flood.

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It appears simple to assert that the solution partly lies in relocating these settlers. It is also about pulling down structures in waterways in plush residential communities. The political will to do what is simple and required, sadly, is and has always been lacking.

The impunity ends up as a cycle and systemic. Accra has lost most of its green belt to encroachment from both citizens and developers. Over time, encroachment of vegetative covers has led to rise in slums.  Poor planning and siting of structures in Accra fuels an already precarious problem. For example, the green belt in East legon has seen massive development without permission from Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA). These are all contributing factors to the floods problem which affect our city and her development. The government must enforce the laws on vegetative covers.

Unfortunately, sanitation is a big issue in the city. Citizens’ attitudes towards waste is appalling and disheartening. There has been conscious effort by the government agencies to provide facilities for citizen in order to ensure proper disposal of waste and achieve environmental sustainability.  Citizens settling along the water course dumb waste in the drainage. The effects of this attitude are seen during flooding. Citizens have a role to play in stopping the cycle.

To be able to effective deal with the problem, City authorities should avert their minds to the development of drainage systems. It is sad to note that rain, a big resource in other parts of the world, has become our enemy. Everything is possible. Drainage systems are possible too.  Modern engineering technology requires management of surface ruff-off that can save rain for agriculture purposes or even address perennial water shortage among low-income areas in Accra. Our city authorities should be progressive and make the most out of rainfalls.

To conclude, recently, I heard the Minster of Housing announce we need US 1.3 bn to solve the city’s flooding problem. If this is far from the decades of talk, then our collective prayer is with him.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

ERNEST TSIFODZE

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Ernest Tsifodze is an author, motivational speaker and real estate learner

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FELIX DADE

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Felix Dade is an educator, peace advocate, youth coach and social development worker with a decade of professional experience working with young people in an atmosphere that engenders respect, creativity , critical thinking and problem-solving.

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THE PERFECT MATCH (WHAT I WISH I KNEW ABOUT THE TILES I BOUGHT)

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The art of cooking requires the use of the right cooking utensils and cutlery to serve the right dish. It would be an epic failure to use a spatula to serve soup. I can bet that the whole kitchen will become a mess right after this. Please do not try this at home!!!!! Well I was just trying to paint a picture in your mind. Just as serving soup with a spatula would be an error, using the wrong type of tiles for a space in property would seem likewise. In order not to beat about the bush too much, the cusp of the write-up is to guide you in making the right choice in selecting tiles for any space in an edifice.
The first on the list will be ceramic tiles. These tiles are made of red or white clay biscuit with a decorative glaze applied to its surface. Ceramic tiles are best suited for wet areas such as bathrooms and kitchens. This is because they are durable and easy to clean given the nature of activities carried out in a typical kitchen or bathroom accompanied with water splashing, traces of soap and food stains. They are relatively cheap as well.

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The second is porcelain, which is a type of ceramic tile. However, it is more durable and less porous than ceramic tiles. Porcelain is a good choice for residences and properties which attract high human traffic such as airports, retail centres and restaurants because of its strong resistance to abrasion. Hate to burst your bubble but it is quite expensive.

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Another type is marble tiles. They are natural stones with an aesthetic component to them and are popularly used for kitchen tops, living areas and bedroom areas. In the ancient days, marble was a sign of wealth and prominence making it more fitting to be used for famous buildings such as the Washington DC monument and the USA’s Supreme Court building. On the flip side, they are very costly and require a high level of maintenance however they add a touch elegance and classiness to a building.

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Teracotta tiles as the name goes means baked earth. It has a tactile finish and warmth colour. Terracotta is a relatively old building material nevertheless it is hard wearing and durable when treated. Popularly used in pantries, hallways and a variety of interiors. The downside to it is that it cracks easily as it is porous.

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Also, mosaic tiles could be another option for your home. They constitute a combination of glass, ceramic, porcelain or stone. Mosaic is best used as a backsplash to your kitchen or bathroom or as a border to your flooring design. Vinyl tiles are also the most commonly used in bathrooms. It is easy to install and eco-friendly since it is reusable. It’s less prone to cracks and breaking. Mainly most people use it because of its lower in cost as compared to ceramic tiles.

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I will end with one important factor to consider when choosing tiles and that is choose a tile that will match with the colour of your space. We do not want anyone to become colour blind after visiting your home. Lol.
I believe that in choosing the right tile for the right space one is able to maximize the use of building spaces, ensure safety and build at an affordable cost.

Until next time see you guys later.

FROM KIOSK SLUMS TO CONTAINER HOUSING

Slums are not a new phenomenon. They have been with us long ago. This write up will open your eyes to why we see slums all over the major cities, what we all got wrong and how the proliferating of slums can be curbed.

Slums are created because of the highest incidence of migration of people from the rural to the urban areas. People in search of greener pastures or wanting to be close to economic viable, political and administrative centres find themselves in those unacceptably impoverished areas.

The foremost aim of migrants is to develop new strategies and take part in the economic opportunities associated with national capitals, meet their financial needs and their relatives in the rural areas as well as seek for opportunities for their able-bodied relatives.

In Ghana, statistics gathered by the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN Habitat) shows that the number of urban slum dwellers in Ghana rose from 3.57 million in 1990 to 4.47 million in the year 2000 and a little over 4.84 million at 2010. This statistic, studied closely, reveals migration as a major factor influencing the jump in the population in urban settlements.

Migration into urban areas leads to pressure on land. Thus, many people are forced to live on usually small pieces of land. Because these lands are often used without the authority of Government or her agencies, the people put up a temporal structure. This has given rise to ‘kiosk’ (often substandard, wooden structure accommodation unit in slums). The kiosk-ridden-slum settlements have put Accra in the limelight for discussion due to the inhumane and insanitary conditions slum dwellers are exposed to.

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The rapid development that is taking place for both commercial and residential unit can be pinned to the ‘demonstration effect’ of Accra and more interestingly to court investors into the country for various businesses.  The other side of the coin is that, it has influenced the high levels of migration of people to find opportunities in the capital cities. And, in the final analysis, this has escalated the population of urban slum dwellers to nearly 5.35 million Ghanaians with 37.9 per cent of Ghana’s total urban population living in slums, according to a United Nations report released in 2014.

The migration ‘epidemic’ puts pressure on both the government and social amenities in the urban centres. The government, on one hand, is faced with a lot of pressure to curb the situation. Some reforms and policy prepositions have been made to ensure that most people are not motivated to move away from their town into the city with the sole aim of searching for greener pastures are under consideration.  Particularly, the current Ghanaian government, headed by President Nana Addo Danquah Akufo Addo is proposing a policy with a common, catchy slogan, “One District, One Factory” to create jobs for young people in their districts.

Again, the Ghanaian government, in 2017, created the Ministry of Inner-Cities and Zongo Development. The ministry is tasked with the responsibility of ensuring equitable distribution of resources to less deprived towns (mostly the slum areas where conditions are deplorable).  The Government’s belief is that these policies interventions will go a long way to reduce crime rate and poverty in such specific areas.

Rightly so, with the policies of “one district, one factory”, when practically and effectively implemented (something that is hard to expect in Africa), there is the likelihood that development will take place in various regions which will serve as a catalyst for jobs, increased productivity and human decency.

But, realistically, the effect of these policies, may yield little results because, technically and practically, youth unemployment statistics is alarmingly frightening and the policy cure in ‘One District, One Factory’ may not be lethal enough thereby leaving rural-urban migration to thrive.

While we argue about economic policies that may or may not work, decisive steps need to be taken to close the over a million housing deficit in Ghana. The State must recognise the need to formulate more incentives for private developers in the country. The incentives could begin with the removal of the 5% Value Added Tax on property sale. This tax, like many nuisance others, is a stumbling block to the provision of decent and affordable housing in Ghana.  Government’s partnership with the Private sector, with regards to the provision of homes through mortgage services which favors especially people in the working and lower classes are welcomed.

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Considering the lack of attention from governments, then and now, the canker is widening. The reason is that few of the incentives that the government has provided are piecemeal which estate developers shy away from – providing low cost houses. For most estate developers, the challenge is with the high interest rate and constant depreciation of our local currency. The situation has forced the market to build and sell than to rent. If they did the latter, it took a longer time to recoup their capital and if they are not lucky, time value for money will leave their accounting books hanging.

But there must be a shift in the way we plan, build and deliver homes. From the slum areas to the sprawling areas for lower income earners, ‘container housing’ is the way to go.  At least, it is a good way of delivering affordable homes to people on the lowest of the social class scale.

Container housing is not a re-invention of the wheel. It is a well-developed system in other countries. As the popular saying goes, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. Dock Inn Hostel, located in Germany, built entirely out of disused container materials is not far in sight. That building has of 64 rooms and can accommodate up to 188 guests in 25-square-metre area. Parts of the hostel has been welded together to make space for four and eight-bed dorms. While Dock Inn Hostel is built from recycled container, its safety and comfort are not compromised.

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Governments across Africa, and especially in Ghana, should be proactive in dealing with redevelopment of slums in the country. This she can do by providing incentives for developers to undertake such projects and educate the citizenry about the safety and quality of the houses.

To be sure, slums must be redesigned with new structures which are well developed and can command a market value. Again, the government can relocate them to newly built container sites to create a new market value which will go a long way to balance the books of developers when the market fully matures.

Finally, by way of call to the government, without incentives, the kiosk-flooded slums will not fade away. It is up to the government to act with partners in taking pragmatic steps to treat the issue with the lenses of national security as well as upholding the decency every citizen is entitled to.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Felix Dade is an educator, peace advocate, youth coach and social development worker with a decade of professional experience working with young people in an atmosphere that engenders respect, creativity , critical thinking and problem-solving.

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Ernest Tsifodze is also an author, motivational speaker and real estate learner

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