Eight people died and 15 were injured in a road accident in Astore district on 17th July this year. 10 people lost their lives and 7 were injured in a road accident in Gojal Valley on 22nd August. Four people were killed and 10 injured when a bus coming from Gilgit met an accident in Mansehra, on 5th September. Five members of a family, including three children, died in a car accident in Babusar area of Diamer district on 8th September. Five people died in the Khunjerav (misspelled in official documents as Khunjerab) Valley and 5 were injured when a tractor carrying them overturned. A 10 year old child died and four members of his family were injured in a road accident in Phakar Village of Nagar Valley, Hunza – Nagar district, on 18th October.
Gory statistics! Indeed. Mind you, these are only some of the accidents published in the media during the last four months. The statistics for the whole year, or for the last five years, will be even more harrowing and depressing.
The fact is that too many deaths are taking place in vehicular accidents on the roads of Gilgit-Baltistan. Something seems to be terribly wrong with the traffic rules, driving and vehicle management system of the region.
During a recent survey, based on a randomly selected sample comprising mostly of drivers, passengers and transporters based in the Pirwadhai bus stand, it was found that majority of the accidents are taking place because of poor condition of the vehicles. They are not being checked properly, neither by the drivers nor by the competent authorities, not even in towns like Skardu and Gilgit. One can easily imagine the situation in remote valleys, where most of these accidents are taking place.
The second largest reason appeared to be the horrible condition of inter-district and intra-district roads. Majority of the roads are narrow, unpaved, filled with holes, having sharp turns, built on steep slopes and prone to floods, landslides and other natural hazards. These natural hazards, as well as poorly constructed irrigation channels which spill onto the roads, render any repair work, if ever conducted, useless.
The third reason (some counted it the top reason) relates to the men-on-wheels. The driver’s skills, experience, mental and physical condition, “maturity”, and their dependence on drugs, if any, plays a very important role. It appeared that majority of the drivers, with many bright exceptions, are addicted to one or the other drug, mostly stimulants. Charas, Opium and alcohol are widely used by the drivers, which affects their nerves and in many cases leads to major accidents.
Over-speeding, a phenomena that many attributed to drug abuse and “immaturity” of the drivers, in terms of age and experience, is another major killer.
The perpetual hazardous situation demands development and execution of a comprehensive road-safety strategy, especially designed for the rugged, high altitude, terrain of Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral, with due consideration to seasonal variations in condition of the roads. The strategy should be based on a detailed study of the causes of accidents and it should recommend practical actions for the traffic police department, to cope with the road related hazards.
The government can play an important role in improvement of the road safety situation, by ensuring quality in road construction and repair, investing in the training of drivers, developing mechanisms for checking fitness of the drivers and their vehicles, and lastly, by curbing the menace of substance abuse in the whole region.
The civil society, including relevant NGOs, should also take the issue of road safety seriously and raise awareness about safety measures, through training and dissemination of information.
The transporters and drivers, the major stakeholders, need to ensure maintenance of their vehicles by investing some amount of money, to be able to save the financial and credibility loss that they inevitably face after the accidents.