Fewer vehicles on the roads do not necessarily translate into fewer accidents and casualties as was shown during the lockdown
With the easing of the lockdown in the third week of September, vehicles, both big and small, are back on the streets of Kathmandu, and so are vehicular accidents. Not a day passes without a fatal accident taking place in the Kathmandu Valley, often claiming multiple lives, even though there are fewer vehicles on the roads due to the odd-even rule for them. However, this is not to say that the near three-month-long complete lockdown was a safe period. With more than 95 per cent of the vehicles staying off the road during the lockdown, one would naturally have expected the number of accidents and often the accompanying casualties to be a bare minimum. Instead, the period saw at least 30 casualties in the three districts of the valley alone. And this phenomenon was not limited to the Kathmandu Valley, but was characteristic of places across the country, indicating that fewer vehicles on the roads do not necessarily translate into fewer accidents and casualties. The number of accidents and casualties during the last nine months this year is indeed worrying. In the nine months since March 24 when the lockdown first went into force, there have been 3,736 accidents, resulting in 80 deaths and 2,710 injuries. The casualty figure is 55 per cent of the total 152 deaths in vehicular accidents that took place in fiscal 2019-20. There are many causes of road accidents. According to the Traffic Police, overspeeding, drunk driving, reckless driving and bad roads were some of the reasons in Kathmandu. Because traffic was light or non-existent during the lockdown, vehicles, in particular motorcycles, were motivated to speed, increasing the chances and impact of accidents. Misuse of vehicular passes was another reason. During the period, only vehicles with a pass issued by the government for essential services were allowed to operate. Also, the Traffic Police had stopped carrying out breath tests for drunken driving due to fears of contracting the coronavirus. Due to the odd-even rule, although not strictly monitored, there are fewer vehicles on the roads than there would have been at normal times. One can only imagine what will happen once normal life and regular transport resume with the end of the coronavirus pandemic. The lockdown was used by the government to improve the condition of the roads in the valley, and such roads only encourage drivers to speed, enhancing the chances of road crashes in the future. Given the high cost of road traffic injuries in Nepal, the government must introduce measures to minimise accidents both in the capital, where more than half of the country’s vehicles are concentrated, and outside where the difficult terrain and bad roads make them prone to mishaps. Enforcing the already existing traffic rules should help curb road accidents greatly. Since motorcycles account for 80 per cent of all accidents in the Valley, the use of helmets or a seat belt in the case of a car should be enforced. Regular testing of vehicles for any defects is widely recommended. Enforcement apart, education about the traffic rules among citizens is a must. Finally, there must be coordinated efforts among the stakeholders of road safety to raise a sustainable fund to improve road safety and prevent accidents.
Health services The people at Anradi village of Gaumul Rural Municipality of Bajura were elated at receiving health services for the first time at their doorsteps. A community health centre was established recently by the municipality by mobilising its own funds. Before its establishment, the locals of this remote village had to walk almost the whole day to reach the nearest health facility to receive even basic health services. The municipality has arranged one Assistant Health Worker, one Auxiliary Nurse Midwife and one office attendant to provide the basic health services to the local community. The municipality officials said they were also planning to set up a facility for delivery and post-delivery services. Most of the women in rural Nepal still give birth at home without the help of an ANM or medical attendant, putting their lives at extreme risk. As the constitution has given power to the local levels to run health centres on their own, they can mobilise their resources judiciously to improve the health condition of the locals, especially the elderly, women and children. One of the major problems faced by these health centres is the shortage of trained human resources required for manning them.