Glefe: A slum trapped between filth and a violent sea
There is a long curve of water and, as far as the eye can see, there are shacks, ramshackle structures, scraps, piles of refuse, dead rats and a dozen children chasing a worn-out football. The water is greenish with multicoloured plastic litters, wood and uncountable worms.
Away from the nauseating stench from the greenish pool, a group of shirtless boys are busy at the beach, digging a pit to throw in rubbish tied in plastic bags.
Less than 50 metres away from the shore, there are dilapidated buildings whose owners have abandoned them to seek life’s prospects elsewhere.
This is not a fable but rather a real life situations at Glefe, a waterlogged slum near Dansoman in the Accra Metropolis. The neighbourhood finds itself an unwelcome neighbour of the violent sea and trapped in filth because city authorities have not done much to manage the waste in the area.
While its environment is stomach-churning, the meaning of its name is also on the scary side. A habitation for snakes known in the Ewe language as ‘Gle’, the name of the community, according to the Chief of the Ewe and Ada community, Nii Amega Amedor II, means the “place of puff adder.” Puff adders are venomous snakes that live in arid regions, swamps and dense forests. It is said to be common around human settlements.
There are different accounts of how Glefe began but almost all the tales have the fact of a group of fishermen who were the early settlers in the 1970s and 80s.
A bustling hive of people living in a seemingly unending patchwork of decaying cement houses and rotting wooden structures on the wetlands, Glefe appears not to have had any clean-up campaigns with its breath-taking mounds of refuse. The refuse dump, sandwiched between a public toilet and the lagoon, is the first sight that greets the visitor.
Sanitation is a major problem in community. There is no proper means of disposing of refuse. At almost every turn, there is a pile of rubbish in dug-out sewers, behind houses and along the beach.
The situation is worse when it rains and the rubbish ends up in the pool of water. It leaves almost the entire community perpetually shrouded in a stench. Pipelines also run in dirty gutters.
“The refuse comes under the cover of darkness. You never know who brings it. When we collect it and sweep the place, the next day it returns. In the end, some people just give up sweeping and collecting it,” Mariam Issah, a tuo zaafi seller told the Daily Graphic.
The only road that runs through the community is a dusty undulating path filled with debris from broken walls. On a rainy day, it gets muddy and sticky for both cars and humans.
On a bridge that is about a metre wide, a boy with a rubber bucket pours out what looks like human excreta into a drain that is already filled with plastic waste and murky water. Just like most slums in Ghana, the majority of the homes in Glefe have no toilet.
A major concern of most residents is the absence of drains, which means that when the heavens open and the rains come pouring, residents are always vulnerable. For Glefe residents, the beginning of the rainy season is a moment they pray to the heavens for just showers and not downpours.
According to the residents, the rainy season is a period to plot an exit plan from the community or simply play into the hands of nature.
“Because there are no proper drains here, it’s very difficult to prevent the running water from getting into our homes. Whenever this happens, we spend hours scooping the water,” lamented Ms Diana Aryeetey, a resident who poured her heart out to the Daily Graphic.
For a community that has more than an estimated 1000 houses, it is ironic that there are no constructed drains. What looks like a storm drain overflows with garbage and is invaded by weeds, while the others dug out by the residents are shallow and choked with sand.
“Almost every week, somebody gets sick from malaria here. If you come here at night, you’ll be surprise with the amount of mosquitoes around here,” Ms Pat Tetteh, a seamstress in the community said.
Glefe is without a single health facility. According to the residents, the only health post in the area had closed up because when it rains, the clinic also gets flooded.
In the absence of a health facility, sick residents seek medical attention in Dansoman or Korle Bu, some 10 to 15 minutes’ drive away.
Apart from malaria, there are also high incidents of typhoid fever among residents, a source who asked for anonymity at the Karikari Brobbey Hospital, one of the health facilities patronised by residents in Dansoman, said.
Glefe has no public school but a number of private schools. During the rainy season, school is suspended because the floods that sweep through the community turn the community on its head. Whenever it rains heavily, pupils and teachers struggle to pass through pools of water to make their way to school.
“Whenever it rains, most of the children stay at home for three to four days. We have to spend a lot of time cleaning before classes resume,” Mr Christian Sherriff Avafia, a teacher of the Debest Academy, said.
Mr Avafia would not comment about the effects of that on the school but stated that the nature of the environment affected academic performance.
On sanitation, he said it impacted negatively on teaching and learning, since heaps of refuse and, sometimes, human excreta were left around the school.
A pupil of the school, Isaiah Ofori, shared similar sentiments.
“There is dirt everywhere. It is very disturbing living in this community. Whenever it rains our houses get flooded. Here in school, the last rain destroyed almost all our computers. I think it is because there are no gutters.”
Ofori, therefore, appealed to the government to construct gutters to solve the perennial flooding in the neighbourhood.
Poverty and the ravaging sea
Unlike Ofori, Ophelia Mensah, a 12-year-old girl, and her seven-year-old brother, Daniel, the classroom is a no-go area because their father cannot afford the fees.
“Our father has gone to work. He said he did not have money to give us for school fees,” she said.
At 11:45 a.m. on a cold morning in June, Ophelia and her shirtless brother found solace on the shores of Glefe, trudging through the sandy beach and running in and out of the ocean.
Rather sadly, it was at the same beach that three children drowned a week earlier.
The Glefe beach itself has no room for leisure. Apart from the rubbish spewed by the sea and those left there by residents, there are human excreta everywhere.
Houses close to the shore are dilapidated. They showed decaying, algae-infested concrete surfaces that had been at the receiving end of the advancing and battering tidal waves, with their roofs ripped off and abandoned by their owners.
This is the front line of an undeclared war between the poor residents and a violent sea that is merciless to its neighbours- of course the sea has the upper hand.
A teenager, who only gave his name as Samuel, said when the tidal waves invade their homes they only scoop the water out of their rooms.
“We can’t leave because we don’t we anywhere to go. The waves come every now and then. We also fear that if we leave thieves will come and steal our belongings,” he said, pointing in the direction of a group of young men smoking a distance away.
Not far away from Samuel’s house lives an unemployed nursing mother, Maamle. Her room is 10 feet by eight and that forms the entire abode. It holds all they own; a television, mattress, rather colourful collection of plastic bowls and other cooking utensils, clothes and a packet of cigarettes.
Maamle said her husband- a fisherman- had gone to town because he could not go to sea on Tuesday. It is a taboo.
“These days, fishing is bad. In the past, there is always bumper harvest and I smoke or sell my husband’s catch. It is not like that today. Sometimes, there is more rubbish in the net that fish,” she said, shaking her head.
Residents wear the neglect and discrimination on their sleeves and faces.
“The treatment being meted out to us is not fair. The only rubbish container we have close to the lorry park was taken away months ago but was never returned. It is as if we are not citizens of this country,” she said.
“Look at the streets, there is water everywhere because we don’t have drains. This is not fair at all,” Thomas Agbale, a resident, said.
However, it is not everybody who is pessimistic about the situation; Nii Amedor told the Daily Graphic that a planned construction of drains would solve the perennial flooding.
The challenges Glefe is facing are numerous, but for the residents, nothing would surpass the construction of an effective drainage system and an attention paid to waste management, for as John Quaye, a resident, puts it, “we also deserve to live in a flood-free and dirt-free environment. It is not too much to ask.”