By Colonel Richard Edukwesi WOANYA
Chief Instructor, Joint Studies
Ghana Armed Forces Command and Staff College


Ghana since the inception of the Fourth Republican Constitution has experienced stability and peace in a rather turbulent West Africa region, and at the continental level (Africa) at large. The peace and stability in Ghana has, however witnessed occasional increase in tension and feelings of insecurity during multi-party electioneering campaign and minor criminal activities.

There is a popular axiom that peace is not ascertained just by the absence of war, conflict or hostilities. Drawing from this statement, it is imperative that a secured national does not necessarily mean that the state is not engaged in inter and or intra state conflict, for national security is a vital requirement to maintain the survival of the state through the use of economic power, diplomacy, power projection and political power.

Modern day threats involve, not only conventional foes such as other nation-states, but also non-state actors such as violent non-state actors, narcotic cartels, multinational corporations and non-governmental organizations, crises and natural disasters. National security, therefore, has been defined to encompass traditional and non-traditional security concerns of a state.

Ghana, like other countries, has perennial and occasional disaster occurrences that lead to massive loss of life and property. Accra, the national capital city of Ghana, has been experiencing perennial flooding due to poor drainage and disposal of solid waste. The few drains in the city get choked during the raining season in southern Ghana, between March and September, each year.

As a result of Climate Change, the rainfall pattern sometimes changes and torrential rains pour in, causing havoc as the populace, city authorities, the National Disaster Management Organization (NADMO) are seemingly caught unprepared.

Another area where stakeholders of disaster management in Ghana have been caught unprepared is fire outbreaks in congested market settings and settlements, and the collapse of buildings due to probably poor architectural work.

It is apparent that the best option is to prevent the occurrence of disaster, whilst the country grapples with getting pragmatic measures in place to stop the reoccurrence of the challenges mentioned. Hence preparation must be made to manage disaster as it occurs.

This is where the Ghana Armed Forces (GAF) fits into the equation as a major stakeholder in managing disaster in Ghana. The GAF is a ready and an adaptable resource to be deployed by the President of Ghana for such national crises, as provided under Article 210 (3) of Chapter Seventeen of the 1992 Republican Constitution of Ghana as follows:

“(3) The Armed Forces shall be equipped and maintained to perform their role of defence of Ghana as well as such other functions for the development of Ghana as the President may determine.”

Hence, although the primary role of GAF is to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ghana, per this provision of the 1992 Republican Constitution of Ghana, GAF has a legitimate role in disaster management, either to mitigate or respond to address or restore what has been lost or damaged. Furtherance to this, the Ghana Armed Forces Regulation (AFR) Volume I (Administration), Chapter 31-01 headed ‘’Employment of the Armed Forces in National Disaster” provides that “the President has under the Constitution by proclamation, declare that a state or public emergency exists in Ghana or any part, shall be liable to perform such services in respect of the emergency, as the Chief of the Defence Staff may authorize … which is further enshrined in the 4th Republic Constitution of Ghana, Act 210 from Armed Forces Act, Act 105 of 1962.”

Former UN Secretary-General – Dag Hammarskjöld said that peacekeeping is not an Armed Forces function, but it is soldiers who can do it better. In the same vein, disaster management may not be the primary role of GAF, but considering the surprise and shock effects, coupled with the seeming unpreparedness of civil authority and NADMO, the GAF is one institution that is in readiness with the right personnel and accoutrements, to best manage disaster as a major partner, alongside other stakeholders.

It is therefore against this backdrop that this writeup seeks to assess the role of GAF in disaster management in Ghana and the way forward. The writeup will examine what is disaster within the context of this article, types of disasters, principles and factors, management, roles in disaster operations and possible roles in other disasters.


Countries all over the world experience disasters in one form or another, and a great deal of effort is put in to mitigate the effect. Disaster as defined by NADMO, Ghana’s lead agency in disaster management is; “Any occurrence natural or man-made, that causes damage to life and property, ecological disruption, loss of human lives, deterioration of utility facilities and service on a scale sufficient to warrant a response from outside the community affected by that disaster”. Premised on this definition, it is pertinent to note that the occurrence should have an impact on life and property, and would need outside assistance or support to normalize the situation.

Evans Gareth defined national security as “a broad approach to security which is multidimensional in scope. It emphasizes reassurance rather than deterrence. It is inclusive rather than exclusive and is not restrictive in membership. It favours multilateralism over bilateralism and does not privilege military solutions over non-military ones. It assumes that states are the principal actors in the security system, but accepts that non-state actors may have an important role to play. It does not require the creation of formal security institutions, but does not reject them either; and above all, stresses the value of creating habits of dialogue on a multilateral basis”.

Disasters like flooding, do not directly affect national security, however it is the interaction with people and environment that creates a national security crisis.

Disaster leaves in its trail poverty, internally displaced persons (IDPs), environmental degradation and climate change, which if not addressed will have unimaginable repercussions on the national security status of a state. Premised on this milieu, it is imperative that the occurrence of disaster has an indirect, if not direct impact on the national security status of a country, as disasters affect large percentage of a county’s institutions, and a possible destruction to the overall social system and recovery process may alter the community overall priorities for many years.

Disaster cuts across a wide spectrum of human life and can be categorized into natural and man-made. The United Nations, for the purposes towards international response to a national scenario, has categorized disaster into the following:

1.1. Man-made disasters encompass ethnic conflicts or wars, accidents involving train, plane crashes, poisoning of water system, chemical attacks, industrial accidents, failure of structures leading to collapse of buildings, dams, mines, oil pipelines, explosions et cetera.

1.2. Fire and lightning: – there are different types of fire outbreaks resulting from lightning, bush fires, industrial and domestic fires and oil explosions.

1.3. Hydro–meteorological disasters are storms, floods and tidal waves.

1.4. Geological disasters are earthquakes, earth tremor; volcanic explosion, landslides et cetera.

1.5. Pest and insects Infestations: include anthrax, armyworms, locust et cetera attacks.

1.6. Diseases/Epidemics: The notable ones are outbreak of Ebola, SARS, Cerebra Spiral Meningitis, Cholera, and Yellow Fever et cetera.

It is however worth noting that, there is no clear-cut distinction between man-made and natural disaster, as one dove tail into the other. What may start, as a natural disaster like flood and earthquake will lead to man-made disasters of diseases or epidemics.

This paper however is limited to Man-made, Fire and Lightning and Hydro-Meteorological in Ghana and the role of GAF to mitigate its effect on the national security of Ghana.


2.1. Types of Disaster in Ghana

Ghana’s NADMO has, through its research, identified the following thematic areas, as likely disaster that may affect the country: Hydro-Metrological Disasters, Pest and Insect Infestation Disasters, Geological/Nuclear Radiological Disasters, Fires and Lightning Disasters, Diseases Epidemics Disasters and Man-made disasters. The detail is as shown below:

2.2. Earth Tremor in Ghana

Earth Tremor, although not a major cause of disaster in Ghana, is a potential cause, as the capital Accra is sitting on active fault lines. In recent past, the Geological Service of Ghana in December 2018 warned of a possible earthquake. Ghana as a country, does not have the technology, expertise and capability to handle such a magnitude of disaster. It can only rely on international support through international cooperation.

Deepening of international military cooperation with well developed militaries is one way of building capacity and retooling of the GAF, to raise its preparedness level to handle a disaster as a result of earthquake.

2.2. Perennial Flooding in Ghana

Report by Graphiconline (a Ghanaian portal), indicates that Ghana has been hit by flooding since 1959. Since 4 July 1968 (Accra) Ghana has experienced flooding. On 29 June 1971 (Sekondi-Takoradi), the country witnessed one of the worst floods at the time leading to collapse of several residential accommodation, rendering many residents homeless.

Another occasion is the heavy downpour on 4 July 1995 which disrupted power supply in the Capital City, affecting many businesses. On 13 June 1997 heavy downpour led to the Odaw and Onyasia Rivers – two major rivers in the Accra metropolis – coming close to overflowing. The northern part of Ghana has also not been spared as in 1999 the then Upper East, Upper West and Northern Regions, as well as the then Brong Ahafo and Volta Regions, experienced flooding affecting about three hundred thousand people.

In recent times, floods once again have hit the Capital City of Accra on 28 June 2001, which was said to be the worst since 4 July 1995. This trend of perennial flooding occurred in 2007, 5 May 2010, 22 June 2010 which recorded a death toll of thirty-five dead across the country and went down as the worst flood then in Ghana’s recent history.

Other parts of the country equally experienced flooding, on 24 June 2010 (3 bridges collapsed and Swedru was cut off from adjoining towns), on June 26 2010, NADMO said 3000 persons were affected. By October 2010 available statistics showed that 161,000 persons were displaced nationwide.

Fifty-five (55) communities in Central Gonja District in the then Northern Region, were declared submerged by flood waters of the Volta Lake, on 18 October 2010. On 2 November 2010, two thousand and eight (2,008) persons in 120 villages and towns along the Volta Lake in Kwahu East, South and North of the Eastern Region of Ghana, were displaced. The flood left in its trail 850 buildings, farms and markets destroyed and submerged.

On 24 February 2011 floods caused havoc to properties in Accra, on 20 July 2011 Atiwa District (farming activities were stopped for 3 days), on 25 July 2011 five persons were killed at Atiwa. On 1 November 2011, statistics showed that 43,000 persons were displaced and 14 deaths recorded. On 31 May 2013, Accra experienced flooding again, on 6 June 2014 deluge once again hit Accra and then on 4 July 2014.

Standing out tall among the catalogue of disasters that have occurred in the country as a result of the perennial flooding of Accra, the national capital of Ghana and some parts of the country, was the flood and fire disaster on 3 June 2015. This disaster has been labeled by many as the ‘Twin-Disaster’ due to the damage caused by the flood and the accompanying fire outbreak.

The NADMO, lead agency and other stakeholders have worked around the clock over the years, to mitigate the effects and reoccurrence of flooding in Accra.


The President, by ACT 210 of the 4th Republican Constitution of Ghana, is empowered to engage the GAF in emergency operations. For the purposes of this paper, GAF’s role will be examined under the sub-headings Reception, Response and Restoration.

3.1. RESPONSE: – The first role of GAF is response operation, which include search and rescue operations. During flood, the Army’s search and rescue operations hinges heavily on Assault Pioneers. Ghana Army has a duty to reach the victims, rescue and send the victims to safer grounds, in addition to supply relief to victims. Ghana Air Force conducts reconnaissance flights over the flooded areas for search and rescue operations. They rescue victims from their trapped places, airlift and provide relief supplies to the victims.

3.1.1. Search and Rescue Operations: – GAF’s role in search rescue operations in earthquake disasters includes; the provision of heavy earth-moving equipment, medical supplies and services, transport and building of Reception Centers and personnel.

3.1.1a. Role of Army Field Engineers: – The special training of Field Engineers and the equipment placed at their disposal, puts them far ahead of other arms in earthquake disaster operations. The Field Engineers select sites for reception, which should not be far from the disaster zone, of necessity, but should be safe enough to avoid the after effect of the disaster, in addition, should be easily accessible.

The rescue team comprises Engineers, Transport, Communication and Military Medical Team. The team’s primary aim is to search for trapped victims. Their rescue efforts are aimed at providing and reducing injury or death to the barest minimum. The next line of action is the use of transport (including ambulances) to move the victims to reception centers. The reception centers document the victims and direct them to appropriate areas for the necessary attention. The more serious cases are transported straight from the disaster scene to hospitals.

3.1.1b. Role of Ghana Air Force

Air Force aircrafts (fixed and non-fixed wings) are used for search and rescue of victims. Helicopters are used to rescue trapped victims and transport them to the reception center or to hospital. Fixed wings aircrafts are used to transport injured victims to safer locations and hospitals, as well as materials needed for the operation. Helicopters are also used as well as heavy earth-moving equipment, when the need arise.

3.1.1c. The Role of Ghana Navy

The Navy provides important services in search and rescue operations. Naval boats and ships are used to convey the victims to safer areas, while divers rescue survivors and retrieve dead bodies, especially in flood disasters and accidents on the seas or rivers.

3.2. RECEPTION: – The GAF’s next line of action or second phase is activities at the Reception Center. The Reception Center is strategically located to facilitate in and out movements, to ensure that the relief items reach the victims within the shortest time. It should be noted that the search-and-rescue operation, as well as the creation of Reception Center are inter-related, in the sense that, rescuing people first may need a reception center to serve as Forward Base or Last Point of Call, as well as the First Pace of Call from the Reception Center to and from the area of disaster.

3.2.1. Role of Ghana Army

Ghana Army’s role involves selecting the location through reconnaissance, considering accessibility of the site, site clearance and erection of shelters.

3.2.2. The Role of Ghana Navy and Ghana Air Force

The role of both Ghana Navy and Ghana Air Force are limited in the Reception Center but Ghana Air Force is involved in site selection. Ghana Navy’s limitation is when such a center is selected at distant from the sea and water bodies. The Air Force play significant role in transportation, whereas the Navy is limited to areas along water bodies.

3.2.3. The Role of the Military Police and Signal Regiment

The Military Police perform police functions to safeguard property at the site and direct traffic to ensure free-flow of traffic. The Signal Regiment ensures the flow of information (communication) at all levels of the operations.

3.3. RESTORATION: – To reclaim an affected area to its original state, or re-demarcation of an area for other uses, is the next line of action. This is the rehabilitation or resettlement phase and the last in the series. This function calls for close co-ordination and co-operation with the state agencies concerned. It requires both civil engineering and administrative activities. When the situation stabilizes, GAF will be expected to hand over their functions to civilian institutions or their routine works. It therefore, calls for co-operation with the civil authorities during its work.


The principles and factors to be considered in disaster management include prioritizing work, working for durable solutions, limiting casualties and alleviating hardships and effective response. To achieve effective management of disaster, people should be educated, drawn-up plans for action, organizational abilities, regulation, delegation and effective command and control. The role of GAF in disaster management is imperative and an important indispensable national resource.

There is overwhelming evidence of the crucial role the GAF has to play as a major stakeholder, in managing disaster, especially the perennial flooding in Accra, within the purview of the law. The GAF can improve its readiness through military cooperation, possibly, with international partners who have the expertise and capabilities in disaster management. The possible areas could be training, retooling and equipment support and joint operations in specialized circumstances that require the two militaries to operate in joint operations scenarios in a win-win case.


The role of the Ghana Armed Forces in man-made disaster mitigation, is not very different from its role in natural disasters. The after-effect of disasters, be it earthquake, floods, et cetera, is usually the outbreak of epidemic that may threaten the national security status of a country. An epidemic may as well be the result of unburied (human and animal) bodies that get decomposed and contaminate sources of drinking water. It therefore, requires the expertise of international collaborators through international cooperation and dedication on the part of troops, to clear the mess created by the disaster.


The following are recommended:

Ghana should seek international donor support to build adequate drainage to address the perennial flooding of the national capital and other identified areas. The country’s economy cannot single-handedly build the required drainages.

Whilst waiting for donor support, the country should equip the GAF to be well-prepared to handle disaster of any kind. This can be done through furthering military cooperation with international collaborators.


  1. EVANS Gareth, ‘Cooperating for Peace: The Global Agenda for the 1990s and Beyond’, 1993.
  2. NADMO website, ‘Ghana Disaster Profile- National Disaster Management’, , accessed 19 January 2019.
  3. The Editor My Joy Online, ‘Tremor in Accra: Fault lines active, prepare for earthquake’, , accessed 19 January 2019.
  4. The Editor Daily Graphic Online, ‘Flood disaster profile of Ghana since 1968,, accessed 19 January 2019.


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