Addressing Road Accidents on the Karakoram Highway: A Call for Action

By Arif Hussain 

The Karakoram Highway (KKH), one of the world’s highest and most treacherous roads, has unfortunately become synonymous with tragic accidents claiming numerous lives due to various reasons including manmade errors, technical faults, and other factors. The recent incident near Yashukhal, involving bus number LES 8831 operated by Marcopolo Company, underscores the urgent need for proactive measures to mitigate such disasters. According to reports, the bus conductor had heard suspicious sounds emanating from the back tires before the fatal accident, indicating a potential technical malfunction. Despite the driver’s efforts to regain control, the bus tragically plunged into a ravine, resulting in the loss of many lives and leaving several injured.

Such incidents highlight the multifaceted nature of the challenges faced on the KKH. Factors contributing to accidents range from inadequate maintenance of vehicles and infrastructure to lack of proper training for drivers and emergency response mechanisms. Moreover, the diverse terrain and harsh weather conditions add to the complexity of ensuring safe passage along this vital artery connecting Pakistan and China. According to Rescue 1122 an approximate 1500 Road Traffic Accidents (RTAs) are reported from all over Gilgit Baltistan in a single year.

Moreover, the swift rescue operation in the wake of such accidents by all stakeholders’ specially non government organizations and local communities is a commendable job. All ambulances from Gilgit and other adjoining areas were mobilized for the large scale rescue operation on request of district administration Gilgit and Diamer. It is also pertinent to mention that, as usual Pakistan Army aviation provided two helicopters on the direction of FCNA to conduct a rescue operation which is beyond the call of duty. Ten critically injured patients were shifted Gilgit for further treatment. In light of these recurring tragedies, it is imperative for authorities to adopt a comprehensive approach to address the root causes of accidents on the KKH.

Here are some potential solutions and a roadmap for a safer future:

Capacity building of Transport Staff: Implementing mandatory first aid training for all driving staff operating along the KKH could significantly improve emergency response capabilities. Drivers should be equipped with the necessary skills to handle crisis situations effectively, including administering first aid to injured passengers.

Pre-requisite First Aid Certification: Requiring aspiring drivers to obtain a valid first aid certificate before applying for a driving license would ensure that they possess basic medical knowledge crucial for responding to accidents promptly. This measure would promote a culture of safety and preparedness among drivers, thereby reducing the risk of casualties in emergencies.

Establishment of First Aid Posts: Government should establish first aid post along KKH and Baltistan high way (previously JSR) in collaboration with relevant stakeholders, should establish strategically located first aid posts along the highway and its adjoining routes like the Babusar Road. These posts would serve as vital hubs for providing immediate medical assistance to accident victims, thereby reducing response times and potentially saving lives.

Investment in Infrastructure and Maintenance: Prioritizing infrastructure development and regular maintenance of roads, bridges, and vehicles is paramount to ensuring safe travel on the KKH. Investments in modernizing transportation infrastructure and implementing stringent safety standards can help mitigate the risk of accidents caused by technical failures and deteriorating road conditions.

Awareness Campaigns and Community Engagement: Engaging local communities, travelers, and stakeholders through awareness campaigns can foster a collective commitment to road safety. Educating passengers about emergency protocols and promoting responsible driving practices can contribute to a culture of vigilance and accountability.

In conclusion, addressing the scourge of road accidents on the Karakoram Highway requires a concerted effort from all stakeholders, including government agencies, transportation companies, and civil society organizations. By prioritizing safety measures such as enhanced training for drivers, establishment of first aid facilities, and investments in infrastructure, we can endeavor to make the KKH a safer passage for all travelers. It is imperative that decisive action is taken to prevent future tragedies and ensure that the majestic landscapes of the Karakoram region are traversed with utmost care and caution.

The writer is an academician and experienced Restoring Family Links in Emergencies and Disaster Management practioner, 

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