ACCRA, GHANA—In the 1970s, the city of Accra constructed an underground sewage network, discharging to the ocean. In 2002, a British contractor completed a £22 million plant in Jamestown to properly treat the waste, using World Bank and IMF funds. Only 7 years later the plant has suffered mechanical failure and the sewage of 1.2 million inhabitants of Accra once again is discharged to the ocean.
On my first trip to the plant, the operator was not present, but the guard said, for a certain sum of money, he could let me walk around the plant. I bribed him 10 Cedi (the equivalent of 7 USD) for a chance to walk around. This was unnecessary as on my next visit the operator was present and more than happy to give me a lengthy tour.
Enoch, the plant operator, revealed to me that the plant had not been operational for about a year because the main pumping station, the pump that pulls the sewage out of the sewer and up to the level of the treatment works, suffered a mechanical failure. The initial repair would have been relatively cheap but because the plant has been out of operation for such a long time, the repair cost will be much higher. Why hasn’t Accra coughed up the money to fix the pump? Enoch said they didn’t have the money. I think that Accra simply does not consider sanitation very high on its list of priorities. It seems to me that, by obtaining WB/IMF funds, the city was able to construct a more expensive waste treatment plant than it could afford to maintain.
Take this as an example: Enoch, the plant operator, the man who could shut off the flow of sewage causing the shit to back up in every sewer-connected household in Accra, receives a salary equivalent to 5 USD per day. He has a wife and three children to support. If he found any other job he would leave “immediately” he told me. This salary shows how little Accra politicians care about sanitation.
Desertion from the Jamestown treatment plant is a major problem. The laborers there receive the equivalent of 2 USD per day. And this is some of the dirtiest work in town. The city does not even allocate money for safety for the workers. They have no mask, no gloves and no coveralls. They unclog blockages with their bare hands. So it should be no surprise that the laborers leave as soon as they find another job.
The plant employs a UASB secondary treatment (Upflow Anaerobic Sludge Blanket reactor). The liquid is separated to the Trickling Filters where biological processes remove nutrients as the water is poured over plastic packing material. The water is sent to the Final Settlement Tanks. Solids from the bottom of the Final Settlement Tanks are sent back to the UASB while the liquid is discharged to Korle Lagoon. The digested solids are sent to the drying beds via an underground pipe. Enoch said the sludge would become dry in 8 days or 16 days during the rainy season. To remove the dried sludge, Enoch and the other workers would use shovels to pitch the dried sludge into trucks. The trucks would haul the waste to a nearby golf course at no cost to the Jamestown waste water treatment plant.
When the plant operated properly, biogas was produced. However, the gas was only flared in the device below.
The pump is not the only machine on-site that failed to meet its lifespan expectations. Already after only 8 years the filter shroud has rusted through. Most of the treatment plant was not visible to me on my visit so I wondered what else could have failed. The rust may be caused by the treatment plant’s proximity to the ocean and constant contact with salty ocean air. Perhaps the plant was not appropriately designed for its environs.
After drying in the drying beds, the sludge looks like this. Pretty much like ordinary soil. For a recent report on this treatment plant see here.
Korle Lagoon itself is interesting. Nearly all of the gutters of Central Accra empty into lagoon. Because of the dearth of public garbage cans, people usually dispose of their trash in the gutters.
And that trash ends up in Korle Lagoon.
After touring the plant I visited where Cesspool Emptying Trucks dumped their load about one thousand feet away on the ocean front. The trucks will come and for 13 Cedi (about 10 USD) paid to the local government they will dump.
The sewage is carried down to the ocean via the channel below. You can see in the middle of this photo a man relieving himself on the beach. While I was visiting there were always about 5 people defecating on the beach. If we assume that this rate is constant for the 12 hours of sunlight and it takes 5 minutes to defecate then around 720 people use this stretch of beach each day, meaning this is NOT a place where you would want to build sandcastles or do any other kind of digging. I never saw a woman using the beach so I do not know where or when they go. Of course the 720 estimate pales in comparison to the amount of sewage discharged by the sewage trucks each day. At the very end of the beach in the photo below is a beach resort, about 500 meters from the site of sewage dumping.