Killer roads claim more lives than insurgency

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The deadly mishaps on the killer roads of Afghanistan every year account for more deaths than the war related incidents, thus making it quite literally a death trap for its people
 
A wide array of domestic and global organisations, including the agencies affiliated to United Nation (UN), regularly issue reports on civilian casualties in the Afghanistan conflict, outlining reasons and identifying perpetrators.
 
More than those who fight on the frontlines, the non-combatants, unarguably, have been losing more lives to the unrelenting war over the years. But there is other ‘war’ on the roads, minus bullets and bombs, which has been inflicting far more damage than the war in the mountains.
 
According to a recent survey by Global Peace Index (GPI), Afghanistan has earned the dubious distinction of being the most insecure place in the world, much to the chagrin of its citizens and tourists.
 
While the civilian casualties in conflict are documented in incisive detail and discussed in the mainstream media, the horror and destruction because of the deadly roads remains a non-issue for most of them. As per conservative estimates, traffic mishaps in this country account for thousands of lives every year.
 
In 2011, 1,441 people were killed and another 2,952 wounded as a result of clashes and fighting in different provinces. The figure rose to 1,616 and 3,282 respectively in 2012, as per statistics provided by Ministry of Interior Affairs (MoI).
 
On the other side, the Traffic Department claims war-related casualties are far less than the toll exacted by road accidents that left 1,593 people dead and 4,403 wounded in 2011. The figure for last year, the department points out, was 1,540 dead and 4,547 injured.
 
Over the past two years, a total number of 21,374 people have been killed and wounded in road accidents and war-related incidents. To be precise, 3,057 deaths and 6,234 injuries have been linked to war and fighting in the country. On the other side, alarmingly enough, 3,133 people have died and 8,950 others have sustained crippling injuries in road mishaps. If government figures are any indicator, traffic accidents have been deadlier than the insurgency in recent years.
 
Since the dawn of the post-Taliban era that started in 2001, the country has marched ahead with confidence and made significant progress in a number of critical areas, including construction of new highways and import of modern vehicles from outside.
 
A few years back, the 303 omnibuses, which can ferry 50 passengers at a time, hit roads in many major cities, generating a wave of excitement among transporters and commuters. As a result of new vehicle imports, road travel was expected to become more comfortable and fast. But, despite that, the problem of road mishaps could not be addressed.
 
Lack of traffic signals along the highways, uncontrolled speed, technical glitches, ramshackle roads, violation of traffic rules, landmines, military convoys and Taliban attacks have been the major causes of road accidents.

Traffic Department Head Lt. Gen. Nizamuddin Dadkhwah blames it on the dilapidated roads, rickety vehicles, rash driving and military supply convoys. Mainly ISAF convoys ply the Kabul-Kandahar highway that is badly damaged now. In a bid to avoid being caught in crossfire between militants and guards escorting the convoys, drivers tend to press the accelerator, leading to frequent mishaps.
"A great majority of these ISAF convoy drivers cross the speed limit, fearing possible guerilla attacks. This is one of the prime reasons behind such accidents, and so are military supply convoys,” says Dadkhwah.


 
The narrow roads, he says, do not help either. “If two cars are moving side by side, a third coming from the opposite end either ploughs into them or veers off.”
 
The roads and highways in Afghanistan that pass through jagged mountains with dangerous slopes are made of sub-standard material and do not meet the international standards, notes Dadkhwah.
 
In compliance with the traffic laws, a driver is supposed to keep to the right, but many vehicles have left-hand drive steering systems that tend to compromise safety. “We take all possible steps to minimize technical faults in vehicles and have imposed restrictions on the import and movement of old-model vehicles,” says the senior traffic department official. “Further, when drivers apply to renew their license, they are directed to fix vehicle faults first.”

A large number of passengers on the Kabul-Kandahar highway allege that bus drivers are addicted to drugs, a complaint admitted by traffic authorities too. In an inebriated state, they lose control over their vehicles, ramming into anything that comes before them.
 
In order to minimize the risk of mishaps and ensure passenger safety, the department personnel have been equipped with alcohol-testing tools. All these issues, says Dadkhwah, have been communicated to the Ministry of Public Works, but the concerns remain unaddressed.
 
Much to the annoyance of passengers, the Kabul-Kandahar journey of five hours takes one full day at times because of logistics convoys. Abdul Habib, a worker with Hesarak Panjsher Transport Company, says travelers find it difficult to reach their destination on time.
 
Ahmad Shah Baba Abdali, Tunis Paima, Lashkargah Bus, Ghazni Paima and Sada Bahar are some of the leading private transport firms. Interestingly, their vehicles are involved in most of these deadly accidents.
 
Fifty-three passengers were killed and five others wounded last year, when a 303 bus of the Ahmad Shah Baba Abdali Company rammed into a fuel tanker on the Kabul-Kandahar highway in the Aab Band district of Ghazni province. The company's buses have been involved in a spate of accidents over the past 11 years.
 
His admits that 18 people were killed and 23 injured in 2012 when a bus of the firm crashed in Qarabagh district of Ghazni. Another 20 casualties were reported in a similar incident involving an Ahmad Shah Baba Company vehicle in the Daman district of Kandahar.
 
The Transport and Aviation Ministry spokesman, Nangialay Qalatwal, also ties traffic accidents to narrowness of roads, military supply convoys, dilapidated condition of roads and fewer check posts along highways to watch speed limits.
 
“To address the problem, there is an urgent need for the establishment of security checkpoints on highways. Cooperation from travellers can also be effective in speed controls. If a driver does not take passenger concerns seriously, the 119 police helpline can be used,” says Qalatwal.
 
 
Around 1,000 transport companies are currently operating across the country. A new traffic law with stringent provisions is being considered by the Ministry of Justice to bring down the cases of road mishaps, said Qalatwal. The law envisages passenger insurance by transport companies to keep vehicle speed in check.

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