The self-declared republic of Somaliland is grappling with an upsurge in traffic accidents, and officials say the trend will likely continue unless the government puts in place measures to curtail them.
“About 1,251 road accidents [occurred] in 2004 compared to 2,199 in 2011, causing 75 and 142 deaths respectively,” said Abdi Moussa, the Commander of Somaliland's Traffic Police department.
“Several factors cause the increasing road traffic accidents, including poor driving knowledge, poor roads, overloading passengers and goods, high speeds and lack of road signs,” Mouse told IRIN. Officials say truck drivers ferrying khat, a popular narcotic, are the biggest violators of traffic laws.
According to Horn Watch, a local NGO, passengers account for 90 percent of road accident victims, while the rest are pedestrians and drivers.
Hospitals see daily toll
Officials at Hargeisa Hospital, the country’s largest health facility, told IRIN that traffic accidents are arguably the country’s largest cause of death.
“We receive an average of 15 to 20 victims of road accidents each day,” Bashi Mohamed, the head of the hospital’s emergency department, said.
Children are particularly vulnerable to road accidents. “A high number of paediatric surgeries done here are due to road accidents,” said Asha Omar, a nurse at the hospital’s paediatric ward. “For example, 70 percent of the children we receive in this ward are the victims of the accidents.”
“I was in Mansor area of Hargeisa. While I was running to cross the road, a car hit me and I fell on the ground, but I couldn't stand up again,” said Mukhtar Ahmed, a nine-year-old road accident victim recuperating in the hospital.
There are plans by the police to rein in reckless drivers and enforce traffic rules.
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“The [police] are struggling to [reduce] the problem [by] imposing fine on drivers without driving licenses, and [they are] also setting up road signs on the roads,” police commander Moussa said.
“Also, we are now in the process of imposing speed limits in the urban centres. For example, no car is allowed to drive in the urban [centre at] more than 15km per hour,” he added.
The government estimates there are 46,000 motor vehicles in Somaliland. Officials say the country’s road network cannot cope with the high number of motor vehicle imports.
“Every month, hundreds of cars are imported into the country, and the roads are not enough to accommodate the increasing number of transport imports,” an official at the Ministry of Transport told IRIN anonymously.
Traffic accidents are responsible for an estimated 322,000 deaths in Africa each year, according to the World Health Organization, reducing national GDPs by an estimated 1 to 5 percent annually.
Globally, just 42 percent of countries have a road safety strategy.
At a 2007 summit in Ghana, African governments’ transport and health ministers signed the Accra Declaration in which they pledged to halve road deaths by 2015.