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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Singin' in the rain.....


I will never complain about the weather in Manchester again.  Manchester is notorious for its constant rain, and grey skies.  I grew up in Manchester and sometimes think it gets a bit of a bad press (especially after living in Cardiff where I would say it rains a lot more than Manchester).  Yet the rain in Manchester is nothing compared to the rain in Sandema.

Admittedly there are different types of rain back home.  There is the fine rain (that, according to Peter Kay, soaks you right through), then there is “spitting” (after experiencing rain in Africa, I can no longer classify that as rain…), there is heavy rain…big, fat rain where you would rather be anywhere than outside.  These are just a few examples of the types of rain back home.  Let’s not get too carried away classifying rain….you can do that in your own time.

Since the end of April we have experienced rain about once a week here in Sandema.  This “rain” most definitely cannot be classified as fine rain.  In fact, there is nothing about this rain that resembles rain
in the UK, except for the fact that it is wet. 
A lady standing in rain; unadvisable in Ghana

You can usually tell when it is going to rain here; the usually blue sky will start to turn a grey-black colour, and the air will be heavy with humidity.  Before every rain storm we have experienced thus far the sky has lit up with flashes of lightening illuminating the countryside and landscape around us – this can go on for hours at a time (and is usually followed by “lights out” (powercut)).  But before you experience the rain, you are confronted with the wind.  It can sometimes sound like an army is storming up the road at full pace.  It is not advisable to be outside as the dust flies up like a mini cyclone.  (I would also advise you bring your washing in at this point too….nobody needs to see your underwear flying across town!).

When the rain starts to fall, it really starts.  Big, fat drops of water batter your surroundings, and the sound of the rain on your tin roof only heightens the experience.  There are moments when you actually think your roof might cave in. 

The following morning you awake (or just get up as it is unlikely you got much sleep that night!) with trepidation as you review what damage has been caused.  We are in a very fortunate position that the worst that is likely to happen is a few chairs might get thrown around.  Our guest house is on high ground, and the cottages are built up, so the chance of flooding is practically non-existant. 

We have experienced however how much the rain can disrupt life in the Builsa district.  Our plans and meetings usually get cancelled the day after heavy rain as the people we wish to meet need to stay and work on their homes, tend to their farms, or try to rescue any damaged stock, stores, or buildings.  We are only just entering the rainy season; I daren’t imagine the devastation that will occur when the rainy season gets into full swing.  Whilst we may be lucky in our accommodation, the same cannot be said for the rest of Sandema.

The road into Sandema, flooded
Much of the town is at risk of flooding, and in 2012 the National Disaster Management Organisation reported 325 houses had been affected by flooding (houses having either been flooded or collapsed), displacing 715 people.  The communities surrounding Sandema are also in danger, not to mention the destruction of the roads linking Sandema to the rest of the Builsa district, and the bigger towns of Navrongo.  Even with the few rains we have had, roads have already started to erode, trees have collapsed, power lines have been cut, and houses have been damaged.  The implications of this is much greater than any inconvenience we might experience due to bad weather back home – if a road is destroyed or a bridge collapses, that community is cut off.  

On a trip to Uwasi, one of the more remote villages we have visited, we had to drive through the river bed in order to access the town because the bridge was no longer safe.  Now that the rains have begun, and the rivers are filling up, the only way for us to access that village will be to cross the river by foot…and then walk the remaining 10km to our destination.  Imagine having to do that on a daily basis just to make a living.

And yet with as much devastation that the rain causes, the rain is welcomed whole-heartedly.  It is needed.  The rainy season generally lasts about 4 months, falling between May and September.  It is during this short period of the year where everyone plants their crops (approx. 70% of people in the Builsa district farm at some level); the crops that will feed them for the remaining 8 months of the year.  If you are lucky to have the manpower and land to farm on a larger scale, you depend on this rainy season to grow your crops that will also provide you with an income.

According to the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, about 1.2 million people are food insecure; 15% of whom are from the Upper East region.  A further 2 million people are vulnerable to food insecurity, meaning that a bad rain fall, no rain at all, or any other shock ensures that their access to food deteriorates rapidly.  The Upper East has been found to be the region most severely affected by food insecurity (Quaye, 2008).  Of course the rain is not the sole cause of food insecurity (other causes include chieftaincy conflicts, rise in food and fuel prices, and climate change), but it most definitely is one of the leading causes.

When the rain falls here in Sandema, it really does fall, but there is a fine line between it having a positive or a negative effect.

So when it next rains wherever you are, or if your bus or train is cancelled due to bad weather, before you grumble and complain have a little think about how much it will really affect you. Is it a minor inconvenience to your day, or has your life been turned upside down by it?  

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