Road kill

  • Road accidents in Nepal often do not get the same attention in comparison to other accidents or deaths resulting therefrom
- Post Report, Kathmandu

Apr 19, 2016-The two accidents that happened in Doti and Khotang within last week sent shivers down all our spines. In fact, there is news about one or more of such road accidents in Nepal almost every day, while many small accidents are not covered at all. These road accidents are man-made disasters, certainly different from the natural disasters like last year’s great earthquake. The earthquake killed almost 9,000 people and damaged a great deal of property. It drew a lot of national and international attention. 

However, a cool and rational analysis reveals that ‘road accidents’ are more devastating in terms of human casualty than earthquakes. For example, road accidents in Nepal led to the death of 9,170 people, serious injuries to 20,000 people and minor injuries to 45,000 people in a twelve-year period from 2001-2002 to 2012-13. Last year alone, road accidents killed about 2,000 people. Assuming that great earthquakes strike every 80 years, road 

accidents alone would kill about 160,000 people in this time 

span. But the toll from road accidents is increasing every year because of expansion of road and increase in the use of vehicles, as well as unsafe transportation 

conditions. 

I have been to the places in Doti and Khotang where last week’s accidents took place. When I was traveling in Khotang in 2011, I abandoned the local bus/jeep journey on two occasions even though I had paid for the travel and had used the vehicles for a certain distance. I sensed that it was too risky to travel on those virtually non-motorable roads in vehicles that were too crowded. Road conditions might have improved by now. But I doubt the bus drivers and managers, who are more interested in earning money than in the safety of the passengers, have changed. 

The situation in Doti was similar. The roads in the district were initially constructed by the Village Development Committees; they were later improved to make them motorable. But it is still risky to travel on them. 

Difference in attention 

Road accidents in Nepal often do not get the same attention from the government, media and civil society in comparison to other accidents or deaths resulting therefrom. For example, deaths of Nepali labourers in foreign countries get a lot of attention from the civil society as well as the public. About 1,000 Nepali labourers die in foreign countries in a year and there is somewhat better media coverage in terms of news reports, and op-ed and other articles. These deaths are also taken as an issue of national prestige. The attention given by the public, media and civil society to the problems in foreign employment is only right. In fact, much more attention is needed in this regard. But, somehow, road accidents do not receive the same level of attention even though they 

kill many more people. This difference is also clear in the airplane accidents in Nepal, which receive much more attention nationally and internationally even though the death toll from such accidents is far lower than from road accidents.

The socio-economic backgrounds of the victims of disasters, including accidents, partly determine the amount of 

attention society gives to them. In a way, this practice is class-based. Victims of airplane accidents 

are usually from higher socio-economic echelons. Moreover, travelling by plane is associated 

with prestige, and thus receives greater attention from the media, civil society and government. 

It is generally the poorer people who travel on buses, and the accidents involving them are more frequent too. As a result, they are generally out of the sight of influential people in the media, civil society and government. However, the case is different when it 

comes to the deaths of Nepali labourers in foreign countries. This problem has drawn the 

attention of media and civil 

society, even though their 

outcry has not yet significantly brought down the number of deaths. On the other hand, these outcries have often influenced the Nepal government’s policies. Here, the stake or concern is ‘national prestige’ rather than the problems of the victims per se. Feelings of nationalism developed by various political processes over a long period have created this attitude.

Need for reforms

Roads are a basic infrastructure for modernisation and development. They are required to link people to markets and to increase the exchange and flow of goods and commodities across space. They are also necessary to improve people’s access to basic services like health and education. Accordingly, road density and road access, generally expressed as the ratio of road length to the total area and to the population of a country, are taken—whether we like it or 

not—as important indicators of development. However, road access is certainly not enough; roads need to be of a good quality and properly planned. 

Many of the rural roads in Nepal were constructed by local agencies with inadequate technical and feasibility studies. People consider roads not only as an instrument for economic and social development but also 

as a symbol of modernity and prestige. This attitude led to a frenzy in construction of roads 

in villages, causing not only a drain of resources and labour 

but also environmental degradation. Some of these roads 

have been improved to make 

them motorable, but they are 

still risky. 

Road safety relates to road-worthiness of the vehicles, drivers’ capacity, and effective traffic systems. At present, the government is unable to control the syndicate of transport companies to carry out systematic development in the transportation system. As a result, there is no proper regulation of vehicles, monitoring of the drivers’ and vehicles’ conditions and passenger load. Moreover, there is a pressing need to address the social protection of passengers who travel by road through insurance. As roads are the only means of travel for many people, the sector is in urgent need of concrete and meaningful reforms.

Adhikari is a human 

geographer with an interest in development planning

Published: 19-04-2016 09:19

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