My Fellow Ghanaians,
My Brothers and Sisters,
It would be ironic and perhaps, some might even say, a bit unwise, for me to stand before you this morning—just as I am to deliver a speech—and admit that I am at a loss for words. But that is precisely what I am doing, because it is the truth.
An event, or a series of events, such as the floods and explosion that occurred on June 3rd removes all the adornments and day-to-day distractions, and forces us to confront some essential details of our reality.
It erases the ordinarily wide gray area that provides a safe distance between our most extreme emotions and states of being. And suddenly we find ourselves with nothing but a thin line separating certainty from doubt, comfort from instability; separating grief from joy; life from death.
And that single thin line, the only thing that remains when all else has been stripped away, is truth.
I went, as President, to visit the site of the disaster. As I stood there in the midst of the debris and saw the extent of the destruction and the number of lives that had been claimed by death, I found myself utterly speechless. Yet as I stood there, the words that came to heart and mind were those from Scripture: “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons.”
We were all, those of us there that morning, just human beings. We were all just Ghanaians, stunned by the senselessness of the tragedy before us. The only identities and labels that separated us that fateful day were “the living” and “the dead.” And at the very core of our realities that is and should always be the only thing that separates us.
We, the living, are one, and we are the same.
I begin with a reminder of that basic truth.
We have gathered today, those of us here in body, and countless others across the width and breadth of this nation who are joining us in heart, mind and spirit. We have come together as one, to mourn those whose lives were lost to the disasters of that fateful day.
We are here to console the families, friends and loved ones of those who perished.
And while I know that despite whatever sorrow we feel, our pain cannot surpass that of those whose friends, companions, mates and relations have been taken away from them, we nevertheless stand with all of you as one united family to share the burden of your grief.
The loss that our nation has suffered is incomprehensible.
The search and rescue mission is over and the provisional death toll has so far been placed at 152.
That’s 152 human lives—mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, children.
152 Ghanaian citizens. With each number, there is a name, a face, and a story.
And in due course, each of those names will be released to the public to ensure that each individual will be remembered.
I must emphasize that this number is still just provisional.
We are still in the process of identifying the dead. To that end, Government has given authorization for DNA tests to be conducted on all of the bodies from the disaster that have not yet been identified. This will allow families that are unsure of the fates of members who are still not accounted for to bring DNA samples so confirmation can be made. With this official confirmation, claims can be quickly granted for the return of their loved one’s remains.
I urge all families and individuals who are yet to unite with their missing relatives to visit the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, the 37 Military Hospital and the Police Hospital for assistance with the location of their relatives.
Thankfully, a number of people survived the disaster, with varying degrees of injury. Many of them have been discharged from hospitals; others are still being treated and, hopefully will also soon be released.
Let us continue to pray for them to be healed. Let us keep them in our thoughts and prayers over the coming days, weeks, and months as they continue on their path toward a full recovery and a smooth return to their homes and lives.
Government has set aside a GH¢50 Million fund for the purchase and distribution of relief items. Already relief in the form of food, clothing, blankets and mattresses have been distributed. We will intensify these efforts to ease the suffering of the many whose lives have been disrupted and to ensure that all affected victims are equitably catered to.
My Brothers and Sisters,
I know that it is often difficult in the midst of such tremendous grief to speak of gratitude. But there is much for which we should be grateful, not least of all is our own lives, for we have seen yet again the unpredictability of time. Nobody knows what tomorrow will bring, and no one is immune or exempt.
On behalf of all Ghanaians, and on my own behalf, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to the Security Agencies, the National Disaster Management Organization, and the Ghana Fire Service for their dedication and fearless efforts. I would like to also thank and applaud the numerous volunteers—the average citizens who risked their own lives to save the lives of others; journalists who had gone to report the news and found themselves answering the call of a higher duty, rescuing their fellow citizens from harm.
I would also like to acknowledge and thank the various organizations that have launched disaster relief funds intended to mobilize resources to assist those in need.
Government has set up a Coordinating Centre at the Greater Accra Regional Coordinating Council where many organizations and individuals have been donating to support the efforts that are currently being made by Government. This pooling together of resources will facilitate the proper distribution of materials so that all needs are adequately met.
The months, weeks and days that preceded the disasters were difficult times. Even through those difficulties, through the disagreements, and the differing opinions and positions, our ability to come together for the sake of our collective survival, our spirit of compassion and unity prevailed. And I believe it will continue to prevail.
My Brothers and Sisters,
There are those who will wish to apportion blame and, quite truthfully, there is plenty of blame to go around. But when we list, one by one, the various mistakes and failings that contributed to the catastrophe, I hope it is not for the purpose of pointing fingers but rather of making certain that something of this nature never again happens in this country.
The conversation should not be centred on what past governments did not do but, rather, on what this government must and will do.
We should not waste the valuable resource of time predicting when another flood or disaster will claim lives; we should, rather, invest that time in taking the appropriate measures to prevent the possibility of such an occurrence.
As I explained several days ago, Accra lies in the flood plain of several rivers and streams that take their sources from the Akwapim Mountain Range. Ground saturations caused by heavy downpour usually results in flooding. So year after year, we watch the floods get worse and worse, with water rising higher and higher.
If the changing weather patterns throughout the world as a result of global climate change are any indication, the likelihood of flooding will actually be greater.
So far this year alone, the world has seen a fairly unprecedented number of floods as the result of torrential rains. Pakistan, Angola, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Argentina, the United States of America and Mozambique have all experienced excessive flooding that, sadly, resulted in the loss of human lives. In January, Malawi received a month’s worth of rainfall within a 24-hour period of time causing 122,000 people to be displaced.
Indeed the Ghana Meteorological Agency predicted torrential rain within this period. But that does not mean that we are left unprotected. We must learn from the past so that we are prepared to face the inevitable events of the future.
Government has started clearing all the illegal structures obstructing our waterways. The relevant authorities are being enjoined to ensure compliance with the safety codes for buildings and the enforcement of our sanitation by-laws.
We have commenced an urgent clearance of filth and waste from our storm drains and lagoons. We have also commenced the design and implementation of a more adequate and efficient drainage system for Accra. In addition, funds have been provided for the reconstruction of the roads and other public infrastructure that were destroyed by the floods.
My Brothers and Sisters,
Over the course of the past several days, I have received numerous calls and messages of condolence and pledges of assistance from nations throughout the world, including the majority of our African sister-nations.
Last Friday, President Faure Gnassigbe led a joint Togo-Cote d’Ivoire delegation to Ghana to personally offer their condolences and support. Together, we visited those on admission at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, the 37 Military Hospital and the Police Hospital. While there, I offered thanks and appreciation, on behalf of all Ghanaians, to the doctors, nurses and other medical staff who have worked tirelessly to receive the dead with respect and honour, and tend to the wounded with great care. Government will continue to bear the cost of their treatment.
While here, the Togo-Cote d’Ivoire delegation announced their donation of US$ 50,000 and 4 tons of medical supplies. Senegal also dispatched a special envoy to condole with us and make an offering of US$150,000.
This is especially heartening when one considers that these are nations that have recently suffered their own losses and are still facing their own great challenges, yet are willing to sacrifice what little they do have to stand in solidarity with us in our time of need.
I began by saying that the only thing that remains when all else has been stripped away, is truth. And it is this truth of who and what we are that leads us to faith.
Through each of the recent adversities we have faced together as a nation, our collective character has remained consistent. No matter who we are; no matter what affiliations and associations we have, we are a people with great pride and love of country. We are Ghanaians first and foremost. We are people determined to persevere, together.
Though we may lose sight of it amidst all of the adornments and distractions of day-to-day life, the faith that we have in one another and in our beloved country is there, and it is strong. So strong, in fact, that it leaves me in awe, and at a loss for words.
May God carry us safely through this time of grief and sadness.
May God continue to bless us, and shed his grace on our homeland Ghana.
President John Mahama’s speech at the National Memorial Service For Victims Of June 03 Flood & Fire Disaster
My Fellow Ghanaians,