Every day, Evelyn Makuwira wakes up and doses off smiling. When the seven-month-old cries, her aunt Teleza Sandram sings lullabies until she calms down and slumbers in peace. She feels like any other child of her age-cared for. But instead of being breastfed, a bottle of milk reaches her mouth.
Evelyn is an orphan. She survived a road accident that killed her mother and four others at Chichiri Roundabout in Blantyre on September 17 2016. That was her last day she was breastfed.
“Being a single mother of four and just a subsistent farmer, I can’t afford formula milk for the baby,” Sandram says.
She wants well-wishers to adopt or assist the baby.
However, Evelyn is one of thousands of children and adults being robbed of their beloved, including breadwinners, by road accidents.
This plunges them into anxiety, distress, poverty and orphanhood. However, the pain road accidents inflict on the population is untold.
Last year, the Global Status Report on Road Safety last year revealed this tragedy costs over 300 000 lives annually-one of the top-10 killers worldwide.
Locally, the figures are scary. In 2014, 2 637 people died in almost 5 000 accidents that occurred.
Just last month, we reported six fatal accidents which killed 15 travellers. Fifteen was the number of people killed during a head-on collision at Chasato on the northern margins of Mzuzu City in September when eight accidents claimed 19 lives.
Directorate of Road Traffic and Safety Services (DRTSS) spokesperson Angellina Makwecha acknowledges this toll makes our roads risky.
“Worrisomely, most accidents are serious, fatal and claim more lives,” she says.
The directorate reports that accidents that have happened since July were comparably lower than the same period previously.
However, they have killed more.
“This is a great cause for concern,” says Makwecha.
The global report, which reflects the situation in 180 countries, shows the enormity of deaths resulting from road accidents has plateaued at 1.25 million per year, with the highest fatality rates recorded in low-income countries.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO), road accidents top the list of causes of deaths in the world.
Presently, road safety was a topical issue when President Peter Mutharika and other world leaders adopted the Sustainable Development Goals in September last year.
Among the targets, the world envisages halving traffic-related deaths and injuries by 2030.
For the past five years, the country has taken several steps to reduce the scary road carnage and injuries. The preventive measures include introduction of speed traps as well as computerised administration of Highway Code and certification of those acquiring or renewing professional driving licences.
Besides these reforms, Makwecha says the regulators have intensified awareness campaigns, defensive driving trainings and law enforcement to bring sanity on the roads.
The global road safety report considered such efforts across the globe. It names Malawi one of the 17 countries with laws worth emulating when it comes to cracking down on negligence of seat-belts, drunken driving, over-speeding, shunning motorcycle helmets or child restraints.
However, the researchers say “change is too slow to meet the Agenda 2030”. The country’s efforts echo the need for an extra gear.
Worryingly, parts of the M1, the longest road in the country, have had no road signs for years since they were looted or vandalised. Many roads are unmarked. The cameras meant to capture over-speeding motorists break down frequently. At worst, some have become income generating activities for corrupt police officers instead of tools to reduce one of the major killers on the risky roads.
Makwecha admits: “Every new technology has its challenges. As regards the speed cameras, human resource to manage the cameras on daily basis has been a huge challenge.”
She says the vandalised signposts are “a major cause for worry”, saying: “Every professional driver is supposed to make a pre-trip mental inventory before embarking on any trip.”
However, the pre-trip fact-finding mission will not bring to the front the desired cutback on road accidents unless the Roads Authority, Local Government Councils and other stakeholders learn to quickly replace missing danger-lessening basics.
The destruction of road signs marks a call for State agencies to accelerate efforts to close gaps in security and prosecution of criminals who perpetrate this life-threatening plunder even in cities where streetlights shine all night as well as airports where security is supposed to be tight all day.
These thieves on the loose create an unsafe environment for themselves and other road users. n