the darkest

The Darkness Lurking By

Major traffic accidents have become an everyday occurrence in today’s Ethiopia. Traffic accidents killed more than 5,118 people during the past fiscal year alone. Beyond the statistic, there is the story of a father or mother, a son or daughter, a brother or sister, a grandchild, a colleague, or a classmate or friend whose life has been distorted in an instant by a road accident. EBR’s Ermias Mulugeta explores.

Yonas Melaku (name changed upon request) never forgets the moment he lost his brother-in-law, a victim of a traffic accident. It is always distressing when he reflects on how his sister and her family have become devastated by a traffic accident and how she is handling the aftermath. His 32-year-old sister Solome Melaku (name also withheld) and her family faced the terrible accident in September 2019.

In their leisure time, Solome and her family would drive to Kuriftu, a resort in Bishoftu town located 50 kilometers East of Addis Ababa, to spend some quality family time. Solome drives on every trip with her husband buckled-up in the front passenger seat, while her two-and-half years old boy and his nanny sit at the back.

At the end of September 2019, Solome’s family geared up for their usual road trip to their usual vacation spot. As they customarily do, they used the Goro road that connects to the expressway to exit Addis Ababa with Solome driving and the rest of the family taking their usual spots. Her speed was moderate and the road was wide open. Since the road was open and comfortable, every driver gunned their car regardless of size and engine capacity. Dump trucks, public transport mini buses, cross-border trucks, and small cars all drive on this road at a minimum of 80 kilometers per hour or so.

After Solome passed the Koye Feche roundabout, she tried to change lanes. But that proved to be catastrophic. A speeding dump-truck hit the car from behind and threw it by the side of the road. As instantaneous as the crash was, the family’s life changed automatically for the worse. The two-and-half years old boy and his nanny died in an instant; Solome and her husband passed out and woke up after three days with minor fractures.

“Attending to the health conditions of Solome and her husband wasn’t that difficult. But conjuring up the best plan to inform them about the death of their baby boy was gut wrenching,” Yonas recounts. “The first thing Solome and her husband asked after they woke up was about the baby. We told them that he was in an intensive care unit (ICU) getting special medical treatment. But that didn’t playout long as they repeatedly pushed to see him. Finally, we were brave enough to tell them the truth.” After two days, Yonas and other family members summoned the bravery to tell them that their baby boy didn’t make it.

“The situation was heart breaking and Solome and her husband mourned so severely. They just couldn’t take it. Especially her husband was extremely saddened and depressed. After a month, he hanged himself and committed suicide,” reveals Yonas with a broken heart. Solome is barely mentally stable since and is now under surveillance 24/7 by family members. “We have tried a lot to make her feel better. We took her to St. Paul’s Hospital for psychiatric help but we didn’t see any change. Now that she is getting spiritual treatment with baptism and prayers, there is little improvement,” Yonas told EBR. Such stories with unfortunate endings are becoming common throughout Ethiopia.

Stories of many survivors or families of victims reveal the poor or delayed emergency medical response along with inadequate hospital care and absence of long-term rehabilitation centers that have worsened their situations. Survivors and families, especially those grouped as middle-income earners, are overwhelmed by shock and grief, and get neither economic nor emotional support. The judicial system also fails to hold accountable those responsible for the crashes. Such unfortunate realities have left many with the devastating realization that life will never be the same.

Traffic accidents have become a national concern in Ethiopia. A WHO report indicates that the fatality of traffic accidents in Ethiopia goes up yearly. Traffic accidents have killed more than 5,118 people in the country just in the past fiscal year. While the majority of the deaths were registered in the state of Oromia, the loss of thousands of lives and injuries to tens of thousands is costing the country dearly. This is despite the fact that the country has one of the lowest rates of motorization globally. Currently, there are close to one million registered vehicles in the country, meaning nine vehicles for every 1,000 people.

As three-fourths of the cars in the country are located in Addis Ababa, a considerable portion of the accidents happen in the capital. While most accidents happen late at night, there are more fatalities on weekends than on weekdays. The reasons for fatal accidents in Addis Ababa are generally attributed to human error, specifically failure to give way for pedestrians and reckless driving behaviors, each comprising 53.8Pct and 102Pct of the blame, respectively, according to a study by Temesgen Beyene published last year.

The study also concluded that the majority of the affected were vulnerable road users, predominantly pedestrians. They are usually victimized while crossing roads outside of the designated crossing areas (zebra cross) and responsible parties were primarily driving commercial cars, the study says. As such problems have become common; meaning more casualty because of traffic accidents.

Fatalities from traffic accidents increased by six percent annually until 2016/17, according to the Addis Ababa City Administration Road Traffic Management Agency. The Agency states that its advocacy and awareness creation efforts are paying off as the growth has been brought to a halt. According to the agency, in the 2017/18 fiscal year, 478 fatalities were registered in Addis Ababa. “Had it not been for the Agency, the number could have risen by six percent. But in the following year, in 2018/19, the number increased by only one to 479,” said Berhanu Kuma, Communication Team Leader of the Agency.

The number of registered fatalities from traffic accidents in Addis Ababa in 2019/20 until November was 132. The Agency further stated that advocacy and awareness creation programs are still ongoing through face-to-face discussions, media advocacy, inclusion of traffic rules and proper road usage into educational curricula, and collaborations with religious and governmental institutions. As to the addition of traffic rules and road usage into the educational curriculum, all necessary requirements are said to have been completed and the Agency is waiting for the Ministry of Education and the Addis Ababa Education Bureau to implement the program from grade one to eight.

The Agency’s five-year plan sets out to reduce traffic accidents by 50Pct, with two years of the plan period already passed. “We believe we have reduced traffic accidents. Don’t just look at the number of fatalities, but also consider that the number of cars is increasing,” Kuma told EBR. So, at least, we have managed to stop the six percent increment. The route to this achievement has not been easy.”

Addis Ababa still has over one fatality a day. After all the efforts exerted by stakeholders to mitigate the problem, avoidable sorrows are still creeping into more families. The youth constitute the most vulnerable demographic for traffic accidents. “Most of the time, driving under the influence of alcohol is the main reason behind accidents,” said Thomas Eshete, Addis Ababa City Police Commission Traffic Police Inspector. The Inspector urged the youth to raise their awareness towards traffic accidents and the subsequent damages it could inflict upon victims. EBR

9th Year • Feb.16 – Mar.15 2020 • No. 83

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