Road accidents a 'neglected epidemic'

Published On: August 16, 2016 12:00 AM NPT By: Siromani Dhungana  | @siromanid

KATHMANDU, Aug 16: In yet another dreadful day for road fatalities, at least 36 people lost their lives in two separate road accidents in Kavre and Baitadi districts, Monday.

With the latest accidents, more than 115 people have been killed while over 250 others were severely injured in road accidents in the past one month alone, according to spokesperson for the Nepal Police, DIG Madhav Prasad Joshi. More than 600 accidents were recorded by police over the period.

The World Health Report 2013 published by the World Health Organization (WHO) dubs road traffic hazards  a “hidden epidemic” which receives relatively little national or international attention compared with the focus on major communicable and non-communicable diseases.

Former secretary at the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport Tulasi Prasad Sitaula echos the WHO conclusion. Hundreds of people are killed, critically injured or disabled every year in road accidents. The accidents, however, have received less attention from both policy makers and the public, he said.

In addition to the direct costs of road injuries and deaths, road accidents have other serious health implications as well as a wider economic impact. The economic loss from road accidents in Nepal is estimated to be higher than 0.5 percent of the GDP, according to Sitaula.

“Apart from the direct economic cost, the rising number of accidents results in a worsening of the situation of many families,” Sitaula said, adding that the entire family finds itself in trouble if the breadwinner is maimed in an accident.

Another major issue in every road accident is insurance. Currently, the family of a deceased person gets Rs 100,000 as compensation. This amount is sufficient just to perform the last rites, Sitaula said, adding that the government should increase the compensation.

The human suffering for the victims and their families is incalculable, he said. “Compensation is just one way to provide immediate relief but the best way is to minimize the number of accidents by taking stringent measures,” he added.

Transport syndicates main problem
Police data shows that among the various reasons for road fatalities, driver negligence is very prominent.

What is stopping the government from controlling accidents after knowing what  the reason is? It is a lack of political will and the syndicates among transport entrepreneurs, according to former secretary at the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport, Tulasi Prasad Sitaula.

The cabinet two years ago approved new Commercial Driving License provisions for those who drive  public transport vehicles. The provisions, however, could not be implemented following protests from transport entrepreneurs, Sitaula informed.

“It had included very progressive provisions that could make our drivers more responsible while driving public transport vehicles,” he said. “The new law had a provision under which a driver could be eligible to drive public vehicles only after s/he turns 25 and at least three years after acquiring a license,” Sitaula added.

“It is surprising that transport entrepreneurs opposed such provisions which would be a milestone in reforming Nepal's public transport.”  Even our political leadership did not dare to confront the transport entrepreneurs and bring in the new law, he said. 

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