The Weija Dam is a crucial national asset providing potable water for thousands of people, but its future is in doubt. By Felix Dela Klutse

The Weija Dam, the second largest reservoir in the country, is on its way to extinction.

According to experts, at the present rate of encroachment and pollution, in less than 10 years the lake could become a cesspool like the notorious Korle Lagoon in Accra, or even collapse, causing widespread flooding.

Built in 1978 by an Italian company, the Weija Dam lies across the Densu River in the Ga South Municipality, which travels a distance of about 116 km from its source in the Atiwa Mountains.

The river traverses through three regions: Eastern, Central and Greater Accra where it enters the sea at Bortianor in the Ga Municipality. The lake itself covers an area of about 9,000km and serves more than 2.5 million people in Accra East and Accra West. Communities living along its banks have cleared large portions of the vegetation for farming purposes. This has caused the lake to lose water due to the drying up of the moisture content of lands surrounding it. Trees are also being rapidly cut down for fuel wood, leading to deforestation. Loss of protective cover means that whenever it rains, sheet erosion transfers huge volumes of sand into the water body causing it to silt up.

Lakeside communities also tend to use the water as a dump for refuse and even sewage, a problem made worse by industrial and commercial activities, which have sprung up in the vicinity. These include mechanics and stone crackers. All the waste they generate finds its way into the lake. Fishing is another main source of employment but some fishermen have resorted to use of dangerous chemicals in their efforts to increase their yields, thereby further harming the lake.

A survey by Ghana’s Public Utilities Regulatory Commission (PURC) indicates that the Ghana Water Company, operators of the Weija treatment plant, spends close to GH¢ 40,000 a day treating water from the dam before it is supplied to consumers. According to sources, this is far in excess of what is takes to do the same job at Kpong, Lake Volta. At Weija, alum is added to the normal treatment mix of chlorine and lime to remove excessive pollutants.

The pollution in Lake Weija is so now bad that most of its traditional fish stock has become extinct. Information available indicates that some 30 years ago there were as many as 21 different types of fish. Now only four species can be found. The size of the fish has also shrunk drastically and the daily catch has also fallen.

“Perhaps the biggest threat to the lake is encroachment,” the executive director of environmental pressure group Earth Service, Joshua Awuku-Apaw, told GB&F.

“People have encroached on the boundaries of the lake with much impunity, grabbing every available space for any activity or venture, [irrespective of] the consequences.”

A green belt created to check construction has been ignored and houses, shanty towns, factories and even hotels have sprung up. Criminal syndicates, often operated by community elders and titled leaders, have taken advantage of the situation by selling land to people who are either unaware of the regulations or don’t care about them. Encroachment is creating another looming danger – the imminent collapse of the dam. If this should occur, says the Ghana Water Company, communities like Dansoman, Bortianor, Tetegu, Aplaku and Gbegbeyise, as well as Panbros, with its salt and salt pans, would be wiped out. More than one million people would be displaced and another 100,000 people at risk of death and injury.

“It will be a sorrowful scene, too sorrowful to imagine yet it will happen if we do not start addressing the problems now,” Nana Yaa Jantuah, PURC’s public relations director told GB&F.

Awuku-Apaw warned that Ghana could not afford to let such a vital national asset such as the Weija dam be destroyed. “Indeed we shall be the laughing stock of the international community if we stayed aloof for such a disaster to occur,” he stated.
“People will not understand why we allowed ineptitude swallow us up to a point of self destruction.”

However the situation is not beyond repair, he said, adding, “We must start tackling the problem now.” The solution lay with the political class whom he accused being the lake’s worst enemies. “For fear of losing votes and possibly elections, aspiring parliamentarians, sitting parliamentarians, aspiring assemblymen and women turn a blind eye to the impunity that goes on in the lake and the dam,” he stormed.

Israel Elorm Dzokoto, CEO of auto firm AMI International Consult, said the judiciary must be empowered to handle land issues fairly but firmly. People engaged in illegal land sales must be made to face the full force of the law and, where possible, given long prison sentences to serve as deterrent. He suggested that the Weija catchment area should be re-demarcated and all structures in the prohibited zone must be demolished to save the dam from collapse. “It is better to demolish a few structures than losing whole townships and hundreds of lives and million others displaced,” he stated. “The place must be turned into a military zone with a regiment of soldiers permanently garrisoned there to protect the national asset, lives and properties of individuals.”

Last month, about 500 completed and uncompleted houses built without permission were demolished in Joma in the Ga South Municipality. More are expected to follow.