MNA Editorial Desk: Road traffic accidents and injuries are a global tragedy and now turned into a growing and serious problem worldwide and the safety situation is very severe in developing countries like Bangladesh. An alarming rise has been observed in the number of road accidents in Bangladesh during the last decade. Bangladesh is a developing fast and logically motorization is required at both urban and rural areas, which is very evident in Bangladesh.
For an economy to prosper, communication and connectivity is very important–an area where Bangladesh developed a lot during the last few years. The whole country including remote areas are now connected through roads, bridges, culverts etc and vehicles have grown in numbers. It is a sign of our economic progress. But the rise in road accidents is actually taking away the benefits of that as it has become not only a general issue but also an economic threat. Hence, we need to eliminate or at least reduce the number of road accidents drastically in the near future to protect our economy.
Land transport is very popular due to quick communication and transportation of goods and people. It is revolutionary revolution in contemporary economic and social relations. It has been a crucial component of modernity. There has been a continued increase in the shares of passengers and freights carried by road compared to rail and waterways– in recent times, over 75% of passenger and around 70% of freight is carried by road transport. Road accident is the biggest problem of road transportation. This problem exists all around the world but in Bangladesh, the scenario is one of the fiercest. In developing countries this situation is usually found to be made worse by rapid and unplanned urbanization also.
Although Bangladesh is still one of the lowest motorized countries of the world, it has one of the worst road fatality rates in world. The estimated number of road traffic accident fatalities per 10,000 on-road motor vehicles for Bangladesh is very high against the international standards. The fatality rates for motorized countries is usually less than 2 as it is 2 in the United States of America and 1.4 in the United Kingdom. On the same scale, Bangladesh has one of the highest fatality rates in road accidents, over 40 deaths per 10,000 registered motor vehicles.
This huge road traffic fatalities cause thousands of deaths and injuries every year. Road crashes disproportionately affect poor families and cost Bangladesh almost as much as it receives in foreign aid as it alone cause a loss of about 2% of GDP of Bangladesh. This enormous economic and societal loss is a great burden to our developing economy and looms as a serious development challenge. As it is more than the total development assistance received, hence is thereby hindering our national economic growth.
More than 24,000 people die on Bangladesh’s roads every year. Traffic accidents strike deadly blows to poor families like the Begums, and they also suck billions out of Bangladesh’s economy. The losses include direct and indirect expenses, such as medical costs, insurance loss, property damage, family income losses and traffic congestion. Experts say crashes disproportionately affect the poor, making road safety a vital issue for economic development. Road accidents kill and injure people who are young and productive, and therefore have a hidden development impact.
Case studies in Bangladesh found that poor families were more likely than those better off to lose their head of household and suffer immediate economic effects as a result of road traffic injuries. The loss of earnings, together with medical, funeral and legal bills, can have a ruinous effect on a family’s finances, according to the WHO’s world report on road traffic injury prevention.
Moreover, the road accidents create huge burden on Bangladesh’s healthcare system. It was found that, one-fifth of injury patients in primary and secondary level hospitals across the country had been involved in a traffic accident. More than two-thirds of victims were males aged between 18 and 45. Trauma treatment is exceedingly expensive and does represent a huge drain on healthcare resources. In recognition of the burden road accidents place on developing economies, the UN declared 2011-20 the decade of action for road safety. Experts say policymakers in countries such as Bangladesh must stop thinking of road safety as a mere transport issue and recognize it as a public health and sustainable development problem.
A number of transportation experts believe that reckless drivers are the core reason behind the staggering number of road accidents in the country. Heavy traffic jam in the city makes the transport workers more reckless as they fail to make targeted number of trips because of traffic jam, making drivers more aggressive as gridlock cuts down their income. Along with reckless driving, traffic accidents are becoming more frequent because of aggressive overtaking, urgency to make more trips, pedestrians’ unwillingness to use foot over bridges, different characteristics of vehicles on the same road, overloaded vehicles, unskilled and unlicensed drivers, unfit vehicles, occupied footpaths, poor roads conditions and widespread lack of awareness on the road.
To reduce the problem of unskilled drivers, Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) has been running a training program for the implementation of safer roads. Under this initiative, drivers are receiving practical training and licenses are issued only to trained drivers. The government is planning to implement a project for establishing specific rules and regulations for bus owners and drivers. Experts have recommended a number of moves to improve the current road safety issues, such as repairing the roads, improving the traffic police control system and ensuring more cooperation between the workers and owners.
Bangladesh government has program of reshaping Service Standards of Road Network with improvement of all national highways (NH) into 4 lanes within year 2025. Construction of service lanes besides 4/6 lane highways for slow moving vermicular traffic (SMVT), construction of raid overpass on rail-road intersections along with NH, Construction of Flyovers/Interchanges in Major Intersections, Improvement of all regional Highways into 4 Lanes within 2041, improvement of national highways into expressways on priority basis. But for all these programs to be completed on time and to bring in desired benefits from the mentioned projects, eliminating corruption from these projects will be the key.
Overall the fatalities on the roads are becoming a great concern for Bangladesh as it is not remaining a personal or social problem rather is turning to be a national problem. It is having direct impact on the economy as countless families had to move below the poverty line during the past few years. Not only had the loss of the earning members of the families but also the high cost of medical treatment of the victims without any support hurt the families. Here a key concern is lack of any legal solution and financial compensation for the victims, especially the poor. A recent survey of 84,000 Bangladeshi households found 1% of fatal or seriously injured to have received insurance compensation. People even do not know the process of claiming insurance compensation.
A recent study in Bangladesh found that 21% of road traffic deaths occurred to household heads among non-poor people versus 32% among poor people. Three quarters of all poor families who had lost a member to road traffic death reported a decrease in their standard of living, and 61% reported that they had to borrow money to cover expenses following their loss. Families who lose the earning capacity of members disabled by road traffic injuries and who are burdened with the added cost of caring for these members may end up selling most of their assets and getting trapped in long-term indebtedness.
To make sure the victims of road accidents in Bangladesh do not become burden on the society, the nation has some duties towards them. We have to provide social security to the members of victim families. Usually, the education of the children from the victim families is halted after the death of head of the families. These children then turn into long term liability of the country. If the government can arrange free education for them as well as can provide financial support to the road accident victim families, then these families will be able to contribute to the national growth to a certain extent and even might turn into vital assets someday.
A proper estimation of the economic cost of lives taken by road accidents in Bangladesh would surely reflect the considerable loss of addition to GDP. According to WHO, the economic cost of road accidents for developing countries is 2 to 3 per cent of total GDP and that is very much evident for Bangladesh also.
For a developing country like Bangladesh, allowing its citizen to perish to road accidents is not only tragic but unacceptable. And more tragic is if none takes responsibility of the victim families. Hence, we hope, along with different steps to improve road accident scenario, the government under the generous leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will adopt some plans to take care of the victim family members. If so, definitely thousands of lives with high prospects will be saved.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Vice-Chairman, Democracy Research Center (DRC)