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Accidents on the road paint a disquieting picture for the safety and security of Bangladesh’s citizens. It is time for all of us to acknowledge the issue at hand and take steps to reduce road crashes.
The ringing and vibrations of cell phones nudged awake BRAC’s head office on an early Monday morning. When people answered, a familiar voice spoke to them. “I am Fazle Hasan Abed,” the voice from the other line began.
Alert, everyone listened intently to the words said by the founder and chairperson of the world’s largest NGO for four years in a row. Abed bhai – as he is known throughout the BRAC family – lent his voice to spread a crucial message, which kicked off the week-long awareness campaign for the UN Global Road Safety Week 2019.
“I request all members of the BRAC family to follow the rules of road safety and encourage those around you to do the same. I urge you all to play an active role to reduce road crashes and keep our loved ones safe.”
Last year, Bangladesh saw thousands of students take to the streets to protest unsafe roads. This came after two students were killed by a speeding bus – a scenario that many have deemed to be the primary cause of the state of our roads. A lack of disregard to safety by drivers is another reason to factor in when assessing the cause for the high number of death tolls on the roads – in 2018, more than 5,500 crashes took the lives of over 7,000 people. Another notable reason points to competition on the roads by overworked bus drivers, all of whom are paid on contractual basis.
The fifth UN Global Road Safety Week – held from 6-12 May, 2019 – focused on leadership for road safety, and launched action through the ongoing campaign: Save Lives – #SpeakUp. It comes complementing the SDGs – target 3.6 calls for reducing the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents by half.
BRAC Road Safety Programme partnered up with Junior Chamber International (JCI Dhaka West) for a two-day long eye screening drive for bus drivers and conductors in late April. More than 1,000 bus drivers and conductors lined up at the Syedabad Bus Terminal, to have their eyesight checked by a medical team from the National Eye Science Institute and Hospital. The attendees were provided with glasses and relevant medication for their eye problems, and for those who required surgical operations, the team supported in subsidising the cost.
The learnings from the drive were alarming. A meeting was conducted by Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) and BRAC in collaboration with JCI Dhaka West, where the visual impairment of the capital’s bus drivers, and the overall issue of road safety was the focus of discussion. We learned that half of the drivers who participated in the drive are short-sighted and almost three-fourth of the bus drivers have never been to an eye doctor. With almost half of the drivers working right to 12 hours’ shifts each day, these figures brought forward the severity of the issue, and encouraged stakeholders to take steps to mitigate the problem.
The incidents of road accidents and the casualties stemming from them call for stronger leadership for road safety. While the initiatives carried out by BRAC, JCI, and BRTA encouraged decision makers to act through their own institutional capacities, the onus is also on the civil society to take responsibility in their own personal capacities. To that end, BRAC Road Safety Programme is currently implementing “Safe Roads for Women and Girls,” a project that aims to reduce the number of road accidents and promote a public transport system free of sexual harassment throughout the selected project areas. Students and teachers of Jaydapur High School in Gazipur took part to raise awareness for the campaign, demanding safer roads in their area. These demands made their way to the local authority of police for further action to be taken.
Awareness-raising activities were also carried out by the instructors of BRAC Driving School. This unit has an MoU signed with the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority, which enables our road safety programme to certify and train novice and in-service drivers. The instructors raised demands to the government for the enforcement of road safety rules, and for more quality driving instructors to train drivers of safe driving.
Abed bhai’s message resonated with the urgency with which all of us must treat the issue of road safety. “Every year in Bangladesh, we lose thousands of lives in road crashes. Many become permanently disabled as a result. Our own staff members, especially those working in the field, have faced terrible road crashes. We must know and follow rules on the road and for that, we need to build awareness.”
It is the concern of safety which has to be a part of our everyday lives – not the incidents of road crashes. Too many lives have been lost over the years for us to sit idly. Each one of us can, in our own capacities, be a champion for road safety, and #SpeakUp.
Luba Khalili is Deputy Manager, BRAC Communications.