• Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Road crashes ruin families

Analysis shows 73pc of victims are of most productive segment of population

Tuhin Shubhra Adhikary and Faaria Tasin

When Khalid Saifullah became a doctor, it was a dream come true for him and his family. He always wanted to work at a government hospital where he can treat the poor. So after completing his MBBS, he took the BCS exam and joined an upazila health complex in his hometown Tangail as a medical officer in 2009.   

And as expected of him, Khalid began serving his poor neighbours for free. Eldest of his three siblings, he also took the responsibility of his six-member family after his college teacher father retired in 2011.

The year before, in 2010, he got married, hoping to settle down. And all was well until May 29, 2011, when the 27-year-old was crushed under the wheels of a bus on Dhaka-Tangail Highway.  

His friend Shafiqul Islam, 26, was also killed when the passenger bus knocked down their motorcycle. A third friend, Habibur Rahman, was seriously injured. He recovered after months of treatment, but the loss of his two buddies still haunts him and will perhaps do so for the rest of his life.

The story of these three friends and how a single accident can affect dozens of families is not unique in Bangladesh. Statistics are scarce but an analysis by The Daily Star shows about 73 percent of the total road accident victims belong to the most productive segment of the population.

These people, belonging to the 14-50 years age group, are either engaged in economic activities or are students.

The analysis was done based on the reports published in this newspaper in the last four and a half years since January 2010.

It shows at least 8,270 people died in road accidents during the period, meaning at least five people died every day. Of the five, about four were aged between 14 and 50.

During the same period, at least 21,886 people were injured in 5,674 accidents. Many of them later succumbed to their injuries while some others became permanently disabled.

According to police record, on average 3,000 people die each year in road accidents across the country. The World Bank and the World Health Organisation put the figure at 12,000 and 18,000, says a 2011 report of the Accident Research Institute (ARI) at Buet.

The Daily Star reports show highest 48 percent victims were aged between 14 and 35 while 25 percent were 36-50 years old. Fourteen percent victims were below 13 and 13 percent above 50. 

In Bangladesh, an educated man usually joins the workforce between 18 and 30 years and reaches the peak of his career after 40. Those uneducated or less educated join the workforce a few years earlier.

Prof Shamsul Hoque of Buet said wage earners are more vulnerable to road accidents as they have to take the road most.

People of poor income group often travel on rooftops of buses and trucks, making themselves more vulnerable to accidents.

“And if the victim is the lone wage earner in the family, it exerts a severe impact on the family and even destroys it,” added Prof Hoque, also former director of the ARI.

JULY-AUGUST DEADLIEST MONTHS

The rainy season always turns out to be the deadliest, as the highest number of accidents happen in July and August. In each of these two months, the number of road crashes rises by 30 percent compared to those in February, March and April, according to The Daily Star findings. 

During rain, visibility reduces significantly as the windshields of vehicles get blurred, heightening the possibility of accidents. Under safety rules, the speed of the vehicles during rain should be half the usual, said Prof Hoque.

“But drivers often violate the rules resulting in many accidents.”

The number of non-motorised vehicles such as rickshaws and rickshaw-vans also increases during the rain. And more vehicles mean more accidents, he added.

Numerous potholes are developed on the road because of the downpour and the rain water remains stagnant in those potholes for days. This also increases the chances of accident.

All these may explain why so many people died during the Eid-ul-Fitr holidays, which fell in July-August over the last couple of years.

This year, at least 56 people were killed in road accidents during the three-day Eid holiday, according to our district correspondents. Last year, the number was 52.

There is no study, but experts think some 60 lakh people leave Dhaka ahead of Eid and then return after the holidays. An increased number of vehicles hit some major highways during the time to carry these people in and out of the capital.

As a result, the number of accidents rises by 2 to 2.5 times during Eid holidays compared to the normal time, said Prof Hoque. 

DHAKA-CTG HIGHWAY: THE DEATH TRAP

Dhaka-Chittagong Highway is one of the most accident-prone highways in the country.

Between January 2010 and June 2014, at least 186 major accidents took place killing some 330 people, according to reports in this newspaper.

Most of the accident spots fall under five upazilas of Chittagong and Comilla, with the highest 54 crashes taking place in Sitakunda of the port city.

Dhaka-Sylhet and Dhaka-Aricha highways are also among the most accident-prone highways. Over the past four and a half years, 148 accidents on Dhaka-Sylhet Highway claimed 351 lives and 77 accidents on Dhaka-Aricha Highway took 117 lives, our findings show.

The other upazilas that witness most accidents are Mirsarai in Chittagong; Daudkandi, Chandina and Choddagram of Comilla; Sarail and Ashuganj of Brahmanbaria; Savar and Dhamrai of Dhaka; Shibpur and sadar upazila of Narsingdi; Trishal and Bhaluka of Mymensingh; Madhabpur in Habiganj and several upazilas of Manikganj and Gazipur.

About Dhaka-Chittagong Highway, Prof Hoque said around 25,000-30,000 vehicles ranging from slow moving non-motorised vehicles to fast moving big lorries and buses ply the highway daily. This is a major reason for frequent accidents on the highway.

“The government is expanding the narrow but the busiest highway into a four-lane one. But it will not help reduce the number of accidents if separate lanes are not made for fast and slow vehicles."

At least 10 bus drivers at Mohakhali Bus Terminal echoed his view. They said most accidents happen for two reasons -- when errant jaywalkers, coming out of the blue, try to cross the road and when drivers lose control while overtaking, particularly on a narrow lane. 

According to Prof Hoque, unauthorised shops and bazaars on the highway also cause many accidents.

About Dhaka-Sylhet Highway, he said the roadside industries, whose workers and employees cross the road regularly, is a major reason for the accidents.

NO COMPENSATION, NO JUSTICE

Take the story of the three friends. The treatment of Habibur, who had sustained serious injuries, cost his family Tk 7,00,000. Much of the money was taken in loan from a bank and relatives.

But neither his family nor the families of his two dead friends received any compensation. They also did not get justice, as the driver was never caught.

Under the law, a driver faces up to seven years in jail or fine (not specified) or both for causing deaths by rash driving. But the law is rarely implemented.    

NO EXACT DATA 

It is not possible to give any concrete figure of deaths or injuries in accidents. In fact, there is no holistic government or private studies on road accidents and their affects.

According to the report of Nirapad Sarak Chai, which champions road safety, road accidents claimed more than 5,000 lives last year. Another 7,218 people were injured.

The report was based on newspaper reports.

The Daily Star reported only 1,721 deaths and 4,306 injuries in road crashes last year, which shows all the accidents are not reported in newspapers.

According to the 2011 ARI report, at least 3,000 people die and another 3,000 are injured in some 3,500 police-reported accidents every year.

This human cost apart, the financial cost of these accidents is also huge. According to a 2005 World Bank report, with the loss of these lives the country counts a loss of about 1 to 2 percent of the GDP due to road accidents.   

That is at the national level. At the personal level, Khalid Saifullah's death has also shattered the dream of his younger brother Yasin Abdullah Zuha.

"I wanted to do a PhD and my brother had always encouraged me to pursue my dream. But that dream is now dead," he said by phone.

And he is just one of the many thousands.     

Published: 12:01 am Saturday, August 09, 2014

Last modified: 9:49 pm Saturday, August 09, 2014

TAGS: government hospital road crashes Khalid Saifullah BCS exam

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