26 October 2008

Uganda: Death, Pain on Country's Roads

Kampala — An estimated 8,917 people have lost their lives on Uganda's roads since 2003 as the incidence of accidents continues to rise, Police statistics show.

The most recent bloody accidents - one in Bulyatente along the Kampala-Jinja highway which eventually claimed at least 40 people and two within Kampala - have resurrected public outrage and a search for answers to the rising carnage. Figures obtained from both the Ministry of Health and the Police show that road accidents rank among the top four highest killers in the country.

Most victims of road carnage are pedestrians and passengers in public transport vehicles. Mr Meriano Tibabiganya, a traffic and transport consultant, says there are at least 16 known causes of accidents. Mr Tibabiganya, who was recently appointed to the Transport Licensing Board, says from the nature of the roads to motorists and traffic police everyone shares the blame.

"There are about 16 reasons which cause road accidents and 90 percent of these are present in Kampala," he told Sunday Monitor on Friday "[Even] some of the people wearing traffic uniform are not traffic people; they are ordinary police constables wearing police arm bands so they don't know [how to manage the traffic]. The force is understaffed."

In direct response to the above allegation, the Police Commissioner of Traffic, Mr Steven Kasiima said: "Of course it is true that we are overstretched, we have concentrated all our efforts in Kampala so we are not able to police adequately those upcountry areas and the highways. How can you police a whole district with only four staff?'

"The problem is caused by KCC abdicating its irresponsibility to guide traffic in the city...but it is not true that we are using untrained officers to use to do traffic work. When we take over regular police to do traffic work we take them and train them,' he said.

Mr Tibabiganya attributes the latest spike in accidents to absence of vehicle inspection services that has seen all sorts of vehicles in dangerous mechanical condition return to the roads, especially big trucks.

"The biggest cause is the dangerous condition in which all vehicles are," he said. "Vehicle inspection stopped about two years ago; they said they were to set up a private inspection body but it is not yet in place so all sorts of vehicles have come back on the road and you will not see an inspection division until about 2010." Current practice is for the Police to inspect vehicles after they have been involved in accidents.

Mr Kasiima says a part of the blame should be thrown at the doorstep of the ministry in charge of roads and transport. Mr Kasiima says that most head-on collisions, which contribute most of the fatalities, are likely to continue killing people unless highways are upgraded into double carriage roads. He in effect blames narrow roads with many blind and black spots that are made the more dangerous by the presence of potholes on the roads for the rising deaths.

The courts also come in for criticism. "We have been arresting motorists who drive under the influence of alcohol but the courts have disappointed us. They sentence these people to a caution," Mr Kasiima adds. He cited cases where motorists who have killed people are fined between Shs10,000 and Shs30,000.

According to the Injury Control Centre of the Ministry of Health, traffic accidents top three causes of severe injuries among urban people younger than 20 years.

While statistics at the Transport Research Laboratory, also at the Health Ministry, indicate that in 2004 alone 300 children died and 1,200 were injured in the traffic accidents. Between 2005 and 2006 more than 3,911 people perished on the roads.

In 2007, at least 2,334 people died.

Possibly the worst road accident in Uganda's recent history is the one that occurred on August 26, 2007 killing at least 70 people. That accident occurred when a truck carrying soldiers and their wives overturned on the Kapchorwa-Sironko road and rolled down a steep slope.

Despite government interventions to control the road carnage like the introduction of compulsory use of speed governors in buses, more people have continued to die. On October 17, 27 people were killed on the spot when a trailer-truck loaded with cement was involved in an accident with a bus and pick-up, pushing them off the road at Bulyantente, about 2 kilometres from Lugazi township. The death toll has since risen to 40.

In that accident, most of the victims were travelling in the Soroti-bound Heroes Bus. On Wednesday another two people died and 15 others were injured when a speeding bus from Mbarara failed to brake rolling over more than eight vehicles in the city centre.

According to Ministry of Works and Transport statistics, in 2006 there were 18,092 reported accidents with 1,792 fatalities and 12,158 injuries compared to 1,438 fatalities and 12,946 injuries reported in 2000.

In Kampala, between 2000 and 2006, there were 66,498 accidents reported with 2,059 fatalities, 18,819 serious injuries and 45,620 minor injuries.According to Ministry of Health records at least 2,000 people die while 1,200 are admitted annually in hospitals countrywide due to road accidents.

Additional reporting by Paul Amoru

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