Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Civil Defence And Tremors Of Our Lands

Poku Adaa

Four years ago, a team of Geographers in Ghana warned about impending earthquakes in the West African sub-region. No one heeded the call. Now it has happened in Guinea, and in the Ivory Coast. Where next? POKU ADAA, our Tropical Sciences Correspondent reports.
West Africa has enough problems already, of drought, bushfires, coup d'etats, hunger and diseases. The occurrence of yet another tier of human disaster is very catastrophic indeed.

A devastating earthquake which occurred just before Christmas last year has shaken Guinea out of her founda- tions and several hundreds of lives have been lost. The quake, which registered 6.3 on the Richter scale, hit the Guinean towns of Koumbia and Gaoual in the border area close to Guinea-Bissau.

The effects were felt in Senegal, Sierra Leone and neighbouring Bissau. Reports accounted for about 300 dead and over 1000 wounded. Crumbled buildings, floods and fires all added to the carnage and human suffering that encircled the Fouta Jallon mountains.

Barely two months on, another tremor has been felt in the Ivorian city of Abidjan, although there were no casualties and little damage.

West Africa has been relatively stable and inactive as far as earthquak- es are concerned but the history of tremors do not offer us any sense of security at all. Preparedness at all times is the only insurance against such natural disasters. The coastal area of Ghana has experienced earthquakes of greater intensity in the distant past.

Historical records at the National Archives in Accra point to serious quakes in 1862 and 1939 which caused widespread damage and deaths, in 1906, the Volta region and Togo ex- perienced intensive quakes which centred on the town of Akuse. It is very easy to blow this into the dustbin of history and condemn a whole popula- tion into a life of gross insecurity.

In 1980, the Geological Survey Department and a team of eminent geographers from the country's universit- ies held a meeting to discuss issues on earthquakes and at the end of their del- iberations warned of a 'major earth- quake that will hit the West African region and especially Ghana in particu- lar'. Might the recent incidents in Guinea and Ivory Coast not be the pointers to that warning almost four years ago?

The team at that meeting singled out the entire Accra-Tema area stretching as far as the edge of the Aburi hills, the Shai hills, Weija and Akosombo where according to the participants 'there are intensive signals of quake concentra- tions'. That warning is of great import- ance today because known undisputed evidence point to the fact that there are two structural and geological faults on which Ghana is sitting. One lies 30 kilometres from the coast in a north- easterly direction across southern Ghana, straddling the Akwapim-Togo range, while a second fault lies at 5 kilometres from the coast in an east- west direction pointing to Abidjan.

And to cap it all, last year in Oct- ober, Mount Cameroon at 4070 metres, the highest peak in West Africa erupted once again sending lava through the border region with Nigeria and into the Gulf of Guinea. The mountain, known by the local people as Manga ma Loba or the Cavern of the Gods, has erupted time and again in 1909, 1922, 1954 and 1959. This volcano lies in a 'Line of Weakness' defined by Geography records as stretching from Sao Tome, Principe, Fernando Po, Mount Cameroon, through the Adamawa hills onto the Mandara mountains and thence to the edge of Lake Chad, a structural fault akin to a rift valley which is a hotbed of unstable formations.

One cannot draw a direct link between the eruption of an otherwise inactive volcano and an earthquake in Guinea so many miles away, yet the chronology of the events gives great food for thought: Volcanic eruption in October, earthquake in December, earth tremor in February,... What next?... where next? There is no need, if it can be helped to wait for what comes next.

There was clear evidence that Guinea was caught absolutely unprepared and apart from the appeal to the interna- tional agencies for aid as usual, the dead were mourned and will be appar- ently forgotten sooner than later. West African countries are too busy or too poor or too prone to coup d'etats to think about civil defence of their populations.

Just to make a hypothetical assumption: knowing that the giant Akosombo dam with its huge lake of water lies in the 'faulty' south-eastern zone, what will really happen if a sudden quake shook up, bringing all the waters stored behind the dams tumbling down the plains all the way down to Keta? What carnage might have been caused by the time our begging bowls reach No. 10 Downing Street or the White House?

For that is the first action to be taken, go abegging while the devastation rages on, just as Guinea 'was happy to see helicopters carrying food from nations abroad to save her people in distress'. West Africa needs Civil Defence to save people from such natural disasters and a role that will keep soldiers busy, a fitting role for the 'boys in uniform' to teach and assist people to save themselves in time of natural disasters rather than unwarranted forays into politics at which they can perform no better.

First as earthquakes go, there is a need for the establishment of more monitoring stations like the lone one at Kukurantumi in eastern Ghana which is crying for updating of old equipment even now. All parts of the country which are susceptible to quakes and tremors ought to have seismic stations to give advance warnings and whose proclamations will be taken seriously. Secondly, laws and regulations relating to building structures ought to be streamlined depending on which part of the country it will apply, what can be termed as 'Zone and Build Laws'.

Finally, a well programmed civil defence system is essential so that if the shake up should come, people will not stampede others to death in rush and panic.

West Africa is not immune to natural disasters and, however dire our economic circumstances, every facet of human protection must have its fair share of the national cake. The earthquake warning issued by the Eastern Regional Geographic Association of Ghana in 1980 must be heeded now in the face of recent occurences in Guinea and Ivory Coast.

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