Slums in Ghana

As the urban population of Ghana grew, so did the number of people who live in slums in Ghana. In 2014, according to the World Bank approximately 37.4% of people who live in Ghana’s urban regions lived in slums. After Ghana’s independence in 1957, its urban population grew because many people moved from rural communities to urban regions. The country’s urban community has grown from approximately 36.4% in 1990 to approximately 56.7% in 2019, making it one of the most urbanized countries in Africa. A slum is defined by the UN as a contiguous settlement where the inhabitants are characterized as having inadequate housing and basic service.” With approximately 5.5 million people living in slums in Ghana, non-government organizations are working in the community to help address some of the problems that the people face such as sanitation and evictions from the government.

Ghana’s Housing Crisis

As young people move into the city to look for jobs and other opportunities, they end up moving to informal settlements because living in formal settlements may be too expensive. Housing in Ghana can be unaffordable to the “urban poor” because the cost of both land and building materials can be too expensive for people to invest in affordable housing. In addition, the government has been slow to respond to the growing need for housing in Ghana. However, in 2015 the government created a new National Housing Policy to address Ghana’s housing needs.

How does the government view the slums?

Old Fadama, one of the largest slums in Accra, is nicknamed by the Ghanaian government and some members of the public, as “Sodom and Gomorrah.” These two biblical cities were destroyed due to their sinful actions. To the people of Old Fadama, the nickname is hurtful because they see it as the government painting a doomed picture of the city to justify evictions. The image also ignores the fact that many people have made a living there. Some residents have recycled electronic waste to make a living. Local organizations, like the Slum Union of Ghana and its international partners such as the Slum Dwellers International, continuously advocate against evictions.

People Living in Slums Face Evictions

Slums, like Akwatia line and Old Fadama in Ghana, are prone to evictions because of the location they are built-in. During evictions, the government often does not provide people living in the slums with alternative housing. In April of 2020, the government ordered the demolition of houses in Old Fadama, one of the oldest slums in Ghana. Approximately 1,000 people were evicted. The reason for the demolition, according to local news sources, was to remove sediment from the lagoon to reduce the risk of flooding.

This is not the first time demolitions have happened. Demolitions between 2003 and 2006 left more than 7,000 people without homes. The demolition that took place this year received criticism because it occurred during COVID-19 when people were asked to stay at home and practice social distancing. Amnesty International has condemned the government for its actions. The treat of demolition makes it difficult for people who live in slums to invest in the places that they live because they may be evicted.

Lack of Sanitation

Another major problem that slums in Ghana face is the lack of adequate sanitation.  Many people who live in slums do not have a bathroom in their place of residence, so they often depend on using public bathrooms. The lack of private or individual restrooms in Ghana does not end with slums. Places of residence and schools can be built without restrooms.

To solve this problem, groups such as the Media Coalition on Open Defecation in Ghana are advocating that the government work toward limiting the number of public defecations. The lack of adequate sanitation increases the risk of getting diarrhea and diseases like cholera. Although the lack of private bathrooms impacts a community negatively, the need for restrooms has provided entrepreneurs with new business ventures because they can charge money for the use of public bathrooms. According to Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) the use of public toilets has become part of the culture in Ghana. Currently, 60% of households in slums use public toilets.

To solve the problem of limited bathrooms in the slum community, WSUP works with Ghana’s Ministry of education to provide schools with “toilet blocks.” Furthermore, one of the innovative ways that the organization has helped is by building toilets that are not connected to sewer systems. These toilets store human waste in cartridges that are taken to a waste treatment facility by a clean team whose job is to then send the waste to a plant and replace the cartridge. The clean team is paid a monthly fee to remove the waste.  The toilets can be placed in residential areas where some people may find it difficult to access a public restroom.

Although the housing crisis in Ghana may look bleak, the government, citizens and non-government organizations are passionate about solving the problem. In 2019, the government of Ghana entered into an agreement with the UN to build 100,000 houses by 2022, a project that would also provide jobs to people in the community.
-Joshua Meribole
Photo: Flickr