The past three months have reminded us that ending road accidents in Malawi needs prompt interventions on various fronts.
From minibus accidents killing passengers to trucks running over people at a marketplace, we have been left with the sights of car wrecks, injuries as well as lifeless and mutilated bodies.
Over 2 000 people die on the country’s roads and thousands are injured or disabled every year. Children, pedestrians, cyclists and older people are among the most vulnerable road users.
In 2015, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that the country has the world’s third highest rate of road traffic deaths—at 35 deaths per 100 000 people every year—only exceeded by Libya and Thailand.
The economic and human cost of road accidents in the country is quite devastating. However, the media misrepresents the human suffering behind the accidents.
Deaths from accidents on Malawian roads are often viewed just as statistics and despite traffic offences happening a lot. They are visualised as the ‘misbehaviour of the good’.
The human story behind road accidents has not been reported clearly, accurately and effectively.
Scanning through the media, there are no human stories behind the fatalities and injuries emanating from the road accidents.
Those who have survived or left with scars of the horror of road accidents are not always given a voice on how such accidents have impacted on their lives.
It is time the media started documenting stories of loss, pain and hurt behind the road accident statistics.
There are many unreported stories about a child who will grow up without a parent. There are hundreds of uncovered stories about a family deprived of their breadwinner and community robbed of their leader.
Such stories can go a long way in influencing change on the country’s roads.
In sharing the pain of those whose lives have been affected by the carnage on our roads, we can change the mindset of the public and influence policymakers to reflect on a menace whose human and financial cost has been overwhelming.
As a landlocked country with export-led growth, the country’s economy depends on road transport for the movement of goods and people.
According to the Ministry of Transport and Public Works, the road system carries 99 percent of all passenger transport, 70 percent of domestic freight and 90 percent of international freight. Vehicles, cyclists, pedestrians and animals all use the roads.
Poor investment in transport infrastructure, weak policies and legislation as well as corruption has contributed to the rising number of people dying on the country’s roads.
There is, therefore, the need to advocate for greater awareness of road safety in the country, development and implementation of a national strategic plan, strengthening the capacity of institutions, implementing measures targeted at specific groups at risk such as children and incorporating safety into road designs and development.
Among the intervention measures, policymakers need to rethink about the lack of investment in the country’s transport sector.
There is also a need for the introduction of legislation and policies that will reduce the number of fatalities on our roads. Corruption also has to be uprooted from those who manage and regulate our traffic as well as those who build and maintain our transport infrastructure.
According to 2015 WHO Global Road Safety Report, road accidents in conflict free-Malawi are ranked the number one none-illness form of death.
In 2017, police reported that 2 459 people died in road accidents, an increase from 2 343 fatalities in 2016. These are figures almost synonymous with fatalities in conflict zones.
We need to go beyond these statistics of pain and loss to tell the story of the “violence” on the roads of Malawi. It is not a pleasant story but we have to tell it.