In Gleefe, a Ga fishing village at the outfall of the Densu Delta, a resident reports of natives migrating to rural communities further West, where they can afford land, while renting out their property in Gleefe. They in turn make space for migrants from across Ghana including Accra, who are likewise in search of access to cheap housing. During my visits I meet Ewe families who have come from the Volta region generations ago, migrants who have come more recently from the Volta region, from Ashanti region, from Chorkor, another fishing village in Accra. The more people I speak to, the more confused I am about the role of the various chiefs I am presented to, and about authorities and practices in land transactions and land management. Plots to be sold and developed are reportedly defined by the chief by “throwing a stone” – as the stone tends to fall in swampy areas, the purchaser then fills up his plot with gravel to enable development. A house owner recalls: “I didn’t know the plot was at risk from flooding. Few days after we had purchased the land, the rain came and the whole place was flooded. So we decided to fill it, not to get water in the house”. Roughly half of the community land of Gleefe is reclaimed from the lagoon.
Land speculation likewise drives environmental change in Tetegu, an Ewe fishing village upstream of Gleefe that has seen the rapid sell of plots and development of middle income housing in the middle of the natural protected area (RAMSAR site) over the past decade. With the development infrastructure is coming in, including flood risk prevention measures. As an ever larger portion of the wetlands is turned into plots for sale however, the natural retention function is severely damaged, putting surrounding communities at risk. I hear hints of irony and pride when a house owner compares her situation with what she has seen in other risk-prone areas: “I think we are in heaven!”
The authorities I speak to unanimously agree that planning laws and regulations need to be enforced more rigorously to solve the situation. But when and how, without destroying the livelihoods of thousands of people who have come to make a living, and many more to come?