TWO tragedies over the weekend illustrate the weak protocols governing the safety of transport in Pakistan. In fact, the example can be extended to general safety considerations in the country. A high number of fatalities was reported in both incidents — a bus accident in Balochistan and a boat capsizing in KP — on Sunday. In the first case, a Karachi-bound bus veered into a ravine apparently due to speeding in Bela, near Khuzdar. As the vehicle caught fire after the accident, at least 41 victims were burnt alive. In the second incident, an outing for madressah students to Kohat’s Tanda Dam ended up in tragedy as their vessel capsized, apparently due to overcrowding. Some 37 people have been reported dead in the unfortunate episode.
Many questions have emerged about both tragedies, that, if addressed, could save precious lives in future. Apart from the speeding factor in the Bela accident, reports indicate that fire tenders were unavailable in nearby towns, and by the time firefighting equipment arrived the vehicle had been gutted. Equally disturbing are claims that the doomed bus was carrying smuggled Iranian petrol and diesel. Local authorities also say there was no presence of the Motorway Police between Khuzdar and Hub. Speeding and rash driving on Pakistan’s roads and highways is no secret. According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, there were nearly 6,000 fatalities in road accidents in 2020-21; WHO estimates of fatalities are far higher. Therefore, the presence of trained traffic police units on busy highways is essential to check speeding, vehicle fitness, etc. Moreover, particularly on thoroughfares that see heavy traffic movement, firefighting and rescue vehicles need to be posted in close proximity to respond to emergencies. As for smuggled petroleum products being transported in passenger vehicles, there needs to be a crackdown on this criminal practice as it turns these vehicles into fire hazards on wheels. With regard to the Kohat tragedy, there were reportedly no divers around, while most of the children were not wearing life jackets. It needs to be ensured by the authorities that boats and other leisure equipment at tourist spots are in good condition, that overloading does not occur, and that safety protocols are followed. Unless our attitude towards safety changes, and there are actual lessons learned following official probes into such tragedies, we will be doomed to repeatedly witness such disasters.
Published in Dawn, February 1st, 2023
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