Deaths by bullets down, but not by roads
Nepal’s 10-year-long civil war got over six years ago. But the killings have not stopped. While it was bullets and bombs during 1996-2006, now the country’s roads have emerged as the biggest danger to those willing to risk their life and limbs commuting.
Depending on various sources, the civil war claimed anywhere between 13,000 to 15,000 lives. Road accidents on the other hand have claimed nearly 12,000 lives in the past decade, with over 7,500 getting killed in the past five years alone.
Since there are no exact figures, the toll could be even higher. A large number of accidents taking place in remote and hilly regions don’t get reported. It is only the major ones with high casualty figures that hit the headlines and enter police records.
On Sunday 39 pilgrims (36 of them Indians) were killed when their bus plunged into a river canal close to the Indo-Nepal border. A day later 20 more died and 56 others were injured in two separate accidents in Nawalparasi and Dhading districts.
While news reports mainly focus on the deaths, the figure for those injured in road accidents in Nepal is also quite high. In the past 10 years, over 55,000 people sustained injuries (nearly 20,000 serious) in 54,000 plus accidents recorded in the country.
The economic implication of accidents on a poor country can be severe. Loss of breadwinners or severe injuries to family members needing long and costly treatment can ruin families dependent on single incomes.
There is no record of the exact annual national loss from accidents. But according to World Health Organization the average annual loss to gross domestic product of countries due to road accidents could be anywhere between 1 and 2 percent.
Poor roads, unskilled drivers, drunken driving, old and improperly maintained public vehicles, overloading, overtaking, speeding and lack of proper monitoring by the police and transport authorities are the prominent factors behind most accidents.
Despite air services reaching most important places and also remote hilly regions, roads are the principal mode of transport in Nepal. The country has only one railway line covering 52 km and river transport, though feasible, is still at a nascent stage.
Though the first motorized vehicle reached Nepal only 70 years back, the country has witnessed a rapid increase in their numbers especially in recent years. A 2010 study says that there are over a million vehicles in Nepal with almost half of them in Kathmandu Valley itself.
Nearly 73% of the total vehicle population comprise of two wheelers with light vehicles like cars, vans, SUVs accounting for 12%. There are barely 3% public utility vehicles like buses and 4% of the total figure is of vehicles that transport goods.
The country also has a sizeable number of non-motorized vehicles like cycles, ‘rickshaws’ and ox and bullock carts. These vehicles also contribute to the number of accidents on Nepal’s roads but as expected there is no record of them.
There are laws on road safety, but accidents in Nepal have failed to get the kind of attention it deserves. Unless all stakeholders get their acts together, death by accidents will continue to hog headlines with disturbing regularity.
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