A week after a popular shopping complex in Ghana collapsed, the adhoc rescue operation has been called off and questions have surfaced about how this tragedy could have been avoided. On November 6th, Melcom shopping centre located in the bustling suburbs of Achimota caved onto employees who were preparing to open the doors to customers. 80 people have been rescued and 17 are feared dead. Further attempts to pull people from the rubble have been called off and focus has now shifted to investigating how the newly built 5 storey facility could have cratered.
In the past decade, Ghana’s economic growth has spurred an unprecedented boom in residential and commercial real estate in the ever expanding metropolis of Accra. However, the growth in real estate has not been accompanied by effective industry regulations. The absence of proper zoning for commercial versus residential units has created a convoluted city with shoddily constructed buildings springing up at every available corner. To maximise profits, ill-advised landlords collude with municipal authorities to circumvent requirements for building permits. The end result is a densely populated city that does not have a well laid infrastucture to support a rapidly growing economy.
Early reports from the Melcom catastrophe have confirmed that the retail complex had been constructed without a proper building permit and the Ghana National disaster Management Organization has sited structural weakness as a cause of the collapse. Surveying the damage, President John Mahama promised swift accountablity towards the parties responsible for the tragedy. But that did little to allay fears that gven the scope of poor planning in Accra, there could be more buildings at the brink of collapse.
Lessons from the catastrophe
So what can the country learn from this crisis? It is not too late for urban planning to be enforced in Ghana. All major cities in the country need to implement proper zoning with strict adherence to building codes and building permits. There is dire need for a well equiped team to inspect commercial buildings to ensure that the structures pass a safety test. The country also needs diligent city officials who will enfore these regulations and not put bribes before the welfare of citizens.
Finally, the excavation efforts at the scene of the tragedy has exposed the need for a well funded national disaster management department that can respond to a crisis without relying on dispatch team to be flown from overseas to save lives.