By Mumtaz Manzoor
During the last few years there has been a rapid increase in the number of motorbike users in Chitral district. Unfortunately, there has also been an escalation in the motorcycle-related accidents.
It is heart wrenching to see the wounded body of a 10-year-old Huzaifa Safdar from Reshun village, who was hit by a speeding motorbike on his way back from school. One cannot imagine the excruciating agony that the parents of the injured kid must be going through. Although at the district level, there should be facilities to treat these injured cases or a helicopter facility to immediately shift the severely injured person to Peshawar for treatment. The irony is even in 2016 people of Chitral are relying on ambulance and more than 10 hours long road journey to shift an injured person to Peshawar due to a lack of facilities at the district headquarters hospital (DHQ) Chitral.
It is very hard to make that long daunting journey in an ambulance through the bumpy road of Lowari top further exacerbating the wounds and even risking the life of the injured person. Furthermore, a trained licenced paramedic does not accompany the patient on the way to Peshawar, how can the family members who are already in a panic, can provide life support to the injured person, if needed.
A few months ago, a young boy, Aqeel, from Charun village, had a terrible motorcycle accident, and remained unconscious (in coma) for four months in Peshawar and then later was taken to Karachi for treatment. Keeping a child for four months in a hospital puts a huge financial burden on the already devastated family.
The list of such cases goes on, and perhaps every week there comes news of motorbike accident somewhere in Chitral district. Typically, after each accident, we blame the parents for not teaching their kids to be careful and the motorcyclists for careless driving. Just blaming cannot solve the issue; there should be a concrete plan to deal with such cases and to prevent future accident and losses of precious human lives. District authorities, including, members of the provisional assembly, National Assembly, district administration, district police officer, district health officer, public health professionals, tehsil and district nazims and other concerned departments should sit together and come up with a strategy to tackle this life threating issue.
Although keeping a licence and wearing helmet for driving motorbike is a traffic rule but the rising incidents of motorbike-related accidents depict that these rules are constantly being violated and nobody is doing anything. Traffic police must ensure the implementation of this “licence and Helmet related” law. If police find any one not complying with the rule, they should immediately take away the motorcycle in theircustody, without heavyfine, must not return it to the owner.
Awareness programs regarding traffic rules and road safety must be held in every school and college. Non-government and government organizations can collaborate for such programs. Implementing strict trafficlaws and providing awareness regarding road safety is not enough. The lack of pavements for the pedestrians in the densely populated villages is also a major cause for the rise in the incidents rate of motorcycle related accidents.
An interdisciplinary approach involving elected representatives, education department, health sector, police and district administration and communitywill be useful to prevent futureaccidents. The elected districtrepresentatives and the Chitral district administration should work together andallocate funds to newly elected Tehsil and village representatives to buildthe footpaths for pedestrians, so children can safely walk to their school. If school is on the main road, traffic police should be there, or the school staff be trained, to help the children safely cross the road in opening and closing timings of the school.
This is also practised in Australian schools, teachers along with some trained students come to the road, in front of the school, to control the traffic, even if traffic light is there, they help the kids cross the road in the school’s opening and closing time. In Chitral, they can build speed breakers and draw Zebra-line for road crossing in front of the schools and put “school crossing road safety sign” on it (I have never seen any such road safety sign anywhere in Chitral). The district education department should ask the schools to provide emergency traffic and safety related demonstrations to the children, and health department should also be taken on board for providing head injury related awareness.
Most importantly, the district headquarter hospital should have a trauma centre equipped with advanced tools for diagnosis and CT scan. Trained nurses, paramedics and highly qualified doctors should always be there to provide treatment in case of road accident emergency. If the district headquarters hospital is unable to provide treatment in some sever cases, there should be a proper arrangement to shift the injured person to a hospital in Peshawar. During the flood last year, there was a helicopter facility provided for the rescue that should be a permanent feature of the district emergency response.
Any serious road accident should be treated as an emergency; DHQ hospital Chitral should collaborate with Pakistan army, for a helicopter facility to shift the severely injured persons (untreatable at district hospital) to Peshawar for treatment. It may sound unrealistic to many, but contemplation can lead to action and probably can save many lives.
I hope that despite the differences in their political ideologies, all the district representatives will be on the same page to take the initiative and work with all the concerned departments, to deal with this crucial issue and to help minimized the future accidents and human losses.
(The writer is PhD student at The University of Adelaide, Australia).