Road accidents have claimed way too many lives in Nepal and yet the government authorities seem to be clueless as to how to minimize such deaths. On Monday, nine persons were killed and around half a dozen passengers suffered injuries when a passenger jeep skidded off the road and plunged down a mountainous slope at Masta Rural Municipality of Bajhang district. On Tuesday afternoon, yet another tragedy occurred in Humla. Fifteen people have been reported missing, and feared dead, when a jeep plunged into Karnali River in Kharpunath Rural Municipality of the district. As of this writing, there are reports of Nepal Police, Nepal Army and Armed Police Force working for rescue. The reason for recurrent road accidents in Karnali and and other hill districts of Western Nepal is obvious. The roads are not fit for driving. Some of the roads do not even look like roads. Vehicles are allowed to ply right after narrow tracks are opened. These tracks are too narrow and run through treacherous mountainous passes. Since transportation service is still a luxury for the residents of this neglected part of the country, people risk their lives to take the bus ride.
The state authorities have not only failed to address the development aspirations of people there but they have also failed to ensure road safety. This epidemic of road deaths can be controlled only if the authorities allow the vehicles to ply along the roads after ensuring that they are wide enough for two-way mobility and safe to drive. This simple formula seems to have been ignored despite the calls for ensuring road safety from various quarters. Vehicles continue to run through these treacherous roads, they keep falling off the roads, people keep losing their lives and yet no concrete actions are taken. This flagrant neglect to road safety has cost too many lives in Nepal. Facts are rather scary. Nepal Police data as of May shows that road accidents have killed 11,005 people and seriously injured 19,877 people across the country during the last five years. The number of road accidents of the last five years stands at 48,981. The data shows road accidents have been increasing every year, with 28 percent according to the latest figure. On an average, seven people die due to road accidents in Nepal, every day.
We know why this happens: poorly designed roads, lack of periodic maintenance of roads, lack of adequate number of police personnel on the roads, lack of technology and so on. Every time the major accidents take place authorities promise to address the lapses and measures are announced to ensure that only trained and experienced people are on the driving seats. But these measures are rarely implemented. Soon most commitments are forgotten and we return to the status quo. Nepal’s road safety measures have not been able to rise above rescue and relief of the victims and, in most cases, announcement of compensation money for the families of the dead. These are the vital components but they do not really help to reduce the accidents. Our roads should not become death traps for the travelers any longer. Nepal needs really serious and collective commitment to minimize road accidents and save lives of the travelers. Business as usual has never helped. It will never help.