Out of tragedy must come hope that lessons will be learned
Upon hearing of the collapse of the Melcom building in Achimota on the morning of Wednesday 7 November 2012, I immediately rushed to call my mother – she owns a shop close to the six storey building and often frequents the area around it with other members of my family. So I was glad to hear that she and my extended family were okay and had not been caught up in the collapse. However many others were not so lucky; so far 18 people have been confirmed dead in the tragedy that has shocked Ghana.
Not surprisingly, the inquest has already begun with a section of the public pointing the finger of blame at the Melcom Group. Negligence is a word that has been used by many people who say the group must be held accountable for the collapse of a building that is not even a year old. The Chairman, Directors, Management and Staff of Melcom Group of Companies themselves have deeply expressed regret about the tragic incident.
What I was comforted by was that those in authority refused to play the blame game in the way the public did/are doing. Whilst vowing to make anybody responsible accountable, President Mahama also pledged full support to various rescue/disaster agencies to ensure they could do their job in the aftermath.
On a slightly negative note the disaster exposed Ghana’s lack of preparedness for major disaster of this magnitude. For almost 24 hours after the disaster struck, the rescue team that stormed the disaster scene was almost left clueless about how to locate and extract the trapped victims in the rubbles. Heavy earth-moving equipment was moved to the scene and the heavy slabs that formed the floors of the collapsed building were moved but many argue this took too long. On the plus side 69 people are reported to have been pulled from the wreckage of the building since it collapsed. However a rescue team from Israel has had to be drafted in to help with the search & rescue effort as many people are still missing and feared dead. This says as much about Ghana’s good international contacts as it does about their lack of internal solutions.
Ghana has of course experienced disasters before from earth tremors to flooding, but most of them pale in comparison to the Melcom disaster. The only tragedy of recent times that surpasses this one is the May 9, 2001 stadium disaster that killed over 100 sports fans. After which time lessons in stadium security were learned which enabled Ghana to build more stadia and host the CAN 2008 football tournament seven years later.
One can only hope similar lessons are learned from the Melcom building collapse. The Melcolm group, Ghana Armed Forces, Ghana National Fire Service, Ghana Police, National Ambulance Service, Ghana Red Cross and other Private Construction companies will all need to work together to try and ensure that this type of incident is avoided. However if such an incident is to happen we can only hope that many lessons have been learned to ensure loss of life is kept to a minimum.
Our thoughts and prayers are with all the families who have suffered the loss of a loved one as a result of the tragedy.
Ben JK Anim-Antwi (@Kwesitheauthor)