Hargeisa — Serious motor vehicle accidents are at an all-time high in the Somaliland region, intensifying concerns among citizens and officials about road safety.
On average, about 15 people die in motor vehicle accidents each month and more than 200 people are injured, said Fuad Ahmed Hussein, an adviser to the Somaliland Minister of Public Works, Housing and Transport.
According to the annual police report on crime, which was released November 3rd, there were 2,875 accidents between January and October 2013, resulting in 146 deaths and 1,805 injuries. Compared to the previous year, that is an increase of 18%, Hussein told Sabahi.
Not only have road accidents killed and injured many people, they are an economic hardship as well, he said. The economy lost about $6.5 million from vehicle damage, compensation to the families of people who lost their lives and for medical treatment of victims, according to Hussein.
The accidents were a result of numerous issues officials are trying to remedy, including non-uniform placement of steering wheels in cars, lack of road safety signs and enforcement of traffic regulations, poor road conditions, and driver errors, such as driving in the wrong lane, at high speeds, or lacking adequate skill and experience, Hussein said.
Traffic police officer Abdirashid Abdullahi Gadhle said overloaded vehicles and congested roads also are to blame for many accidents.
"The other problem is not separating pedestrian paths from vehicle lanes on the roads," he told Sabahi.
Saleban Ismail Bulale, chairman of Hargeisa-based human rights organisation Hornwatch, said road safety issues were causing increasing concern in the region.
"We are worried that the most important people [leaders and intellectuals] will die in motor vehicle accidents," Bulale said. "Since the government is responsible for the safety of its citizens, this is a result of neglect from the agencies responsible for that work."
Bulale connected the increase in accidents to "corrupt or improper issuance of driving licenses by the agencies that are responsible for road safety".
Gadhle, however, denied that claim, saying that all drivers are verified and tested before they are issued a license.
Steps to improve road safety
During World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims on November 17th, Chief of Police Brigadier General Abdillahi Fadal Iman said the use of mobile phones and excessive speed were major contributing factors to road accidents.
"It is irresponsible on the part of the driver to speak on the phone while driving," he said, adding that police will fine drivers who are caught speeding.
The event, which included discussions on steps to enhance road safety, was held in Hargeisa for the first time this year. It was a joint effort between the Ministry of Public Works, Housing and Transport, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Information, the Ministry of Interior, and the Road Development Agency.
Somaliland Minister of Information Abdullahi Mohamed Dahir Ukuse said the government was taking steps to address the uptick in road accidents, including repairing major roads.
Repairing roads will have a significant impact on economic development, improving travel and enhancing security, he said, adding that construction of seven major roads is currently under way.
The roads under construction are: Hargeisa-Berbera, Hargeisa-Sallahley, Dila-Borama, Kalabaydh-Wajale, Burao-Erigavo, Odweyne-Burao and Dawgaad Road, which connects Hargeisa to Djibouti.
The government hopes the increased road capacity will help decrease accidents, Ukuse said.
To complement those efforts, Somaliland National TV and Radio Hargeisa are broadcasting awareness programmes twice weekly on road safety rules, he said.
Somaliland traffic police are also expecting the municipalities of major cities to install traffic signs on the roads during 2014, Gadhle told Sabahi.
In addition, Hussein said, the regional administration is working hard to fully implement the Road Safety Act, which was passed in March, to enforce road safety regulations.
"We are happy that the law was passed after it sat in front of parliament for eight years and we hope that it will become part of the solution," he said.