CAIRO: Egyptians were glued to their television sets as presenter Riham Said toured the wreckage of a train crash in Dahshour, looked at bloody clothes strewn next to the site, and questioned railroad officials in November 2013.
The crash killed 27 and injured 28; most of the dead were members of the same family returning from an engagement ceremony in Maadi, a Cairo suburb. The accident sparked a public debate about the state of the country’s transportation system.
After the accident Giza’s Prosecutor’s Office detained two railway crossing workers on charges of murder and manslaughter, and summoned the Giza governor, Minister of Transport Ibrahim el-Demeiry and the head of the Railway Authority.
The head of the Railway Authority said during investigations the accident occurred because drivers did not abide by the warning signals and bells, and the accident was therefore not the responsibility of the authority, reported Al-Masry Al-Youm.
An estimated 12,000 Egyptians die every year in automobile accidents, according to a 2012 report by the World Health Organization.
“80 percent of the accidents are due to human error and the other 20 percent are due to the roads and the vehicle,” said Samy Mokhtar, the head of the Egyptian Association for the Care of Victims of Roads.
The association, founded in 2008, seeks to spread awareness of traffic safety as well as helping the families of accident victims.
Mokhtar said accidents have increased compared to 2007, when 7,000 died and 23,000 were injured.
“There is no body in Egypt that has a full strategy to raise awareness to citizens, drivers, passengers, school students and traffic officers who know nothing about traffic regulations,” he said.
Control of the roads
“Let’s face it; we all know that discipline has not returned yet to Egyptian streets or traffic; however the moment discipline returns to drivers, accidents will decrease by half.”
The head of the Roads and Bridges Authority, Maj. Gen. Saad al-Geuoshy, told The Cairo Post that the number of the accidents increased as “chaos increased.”
“Now you can see cars driving in the opposite direction,” he added.
The reasons behind road accidents include the drivers’ behavior, the vehicles’ security and the road itself; 80 percent of the road accidents is due to the drivers’ behavior, 15 percent due to the vehicle and 5 or 6 percent for the road itself, Geuoshy said, his numbers nearly matching Mokhtar’s.
“The Authority has nothing to do except take care of that [roads and bridges’ maintenance and solving it], this year we amended our priorities for peace and security in roads and we are exerting much efforts during 2014/2015,” he added.
Ibrahim el-Demiery, the current Minister of Transportation, was first appointed in 1999 during the Mubarak regime. He was dismissed in 2002 following a train accident in al-Ayat that killed 364 after a fire spread on board after a gas cooking cylinder exploded. No emergency procedures were taken and passengers were not notified of the fire.
Demiery was reassigned to the post in the transitional government in July 2013, and was retained after the Cabinet shuffle in February, despite the November accident in Dahshour.
Almost exactly a year before the November 2013 Dahshour crash, 30 students were killed and 20 injured in south Giza when a train collided with a school bus.
Geuoshy said in the investigations that followed the 2012 collision the former Transport Minister and Railway Authority asked the Giza governor to provide infrastructure to the railway crossing but nothing happened.
Egypt is one of the 10 countries included at the WHO Road Safety project, the goal of which is to decrease road accidents over a five-year period.
The program in Egypt includes a number of representatives from the ministries of Interior, Education, and Health, academia, trauma care services and nongovernmental organizations, and is funded by the WHO, the Global Road Safety Partnership, the International Injury Research Unit at Johns Hopkins University and the Association for Safe International Road Travel, according to the WHO website.
Last April, the Cairo Traffic department started a project to provide 250 intersections in Cairo with traffic lights and cameras to monitor violations, according to their Facebook page.“We chose the 12 roads that witness the most road accidents and turned them into secured roads according to international standards and we are already made a survey and identified the problems that lead to most of the accidents,”al-Geuoshy said, adding that the Roads and Bridges Authority would re-engineer problematic roads.
“We urge those responsible, to take utmost care in raising awareness and the Egyptian Association for the care of victims of roads and their families have full programs and campaigns that train drivers on safe driving, I hope that officials take care of them,” Mokhtar added.
Last April the association held two symposiums at Beni Suef in the framework of the associations’ campaign, entitled “Be aware and know your rights on the road.”
Mokhtar said the armed forces are constructing roads “at the highest level” but it is not enough.
The government needs to adopt a full budget to raise social awareness, he said, “especially since Egypt pays about 17 billion EGP on road accidents, however we don’t pay one pound to raise awareness.”
Frustration with the government
Several prominent figures including writer Akram al-Kasas accused former president Hosni Mubarak’s regime of neglecting the railways for decades, neither developing nor renovating them.
Last February, the deputy head of the Egyptian Financial Supervisory Authority Mohamed Moeet announced that insurance companies paid 5.5 billion EGP during the past three years in compensation for road accidents in Egypt.
Hartwig Schafer, regional director of the World Bank, stated that Egypt needs $700 million annually to repair roads instead of the $70 million that is already paid annually, in an opinion article published on Ahram Online.
Schafer said, “Every kilometer of the Egyptian road network is only maintained every 33 years… every $1 spent now on road maintenance will save Egypt $5 in five years.”
He added that the human and emotional toll of poorly maintained roads is high, and Egypt incurs economic losses estimated at $7 billion a year due to the “road safety crisis.”
Prominent media presenter Amr Adeeb criticized the minster, describing him as a “failure” and saying he “must leave” in his program “Al-Qahera al-Youm” in November 2013, following the Dahshour crash.
According to a law issued in 2006 mandating automobile insurance, a victim’s family is entitled to up to 40,000 EGP ($5,600) and the injured takes 40,000 EGP, depending on their injury.
“This compensation is not sufficient at all, and the association called more than once to increase it from 40,000 EGP to 500,000 EGP,” said Mokhtar.
According to al-Wafd Newspaper, WHO representative Magdy Bakr said in 2012 that Egypt is included in the worst 10 countries in road accidents worldwide.
Every hour about two accidents occur, one person dies, and one is injured, he said during a workshop organized by the regional bureau of the WHO in coordination with the Egyptian Red Crescent, and the National Council for Road Safety.
The advisor of the Ministry of Transport for roads and bridges, Ali Selim, said Wednesday during the workshop held by the Roads and Bridges Authority that the transport ministry seeks to decrease the death rate from car accidents to 5,000 annually through a “clear program for safety on roads and bridges.”
Selim added that the United States succeeded in reducing the death rates from 50,000 to 30,000 annually by implementing safety measures on roads.
A car crash involving at least nine cars led to the death of three people and the injury of seven, the Ministry of Health announced Wednesday. Ten cars were burned as a result of the crash, setting cars and victims on fire, according to several news websites.
Last Tuesday witnessed a car accident in Mansoura that resulted in the death of nine and the injury of about 11, reported Youm7.
Traffic congestion in the streets of Egypt may also contribute to fatalities after accidents, as it also slows ambulances en route to hospitals.
A group of four friends aged 23 to 30 started a phone application and website in 2010 called “Bey2ollak,” meaning “Tell you what,” which functions as a platform for its 1 million registered users to report traffic conditions, including road conditions, accidents, road maintenance, protests, and danger zones.
The co-founder of Bey2ollak told CNN in 2011, “We don’t have CCTV or helicopters reporting on traffic conditions, so people tend to call each other.”
Bey2ollak is an “award winning Egyptian start-up (winners of the “NexGen” and the “Start with Google” Competitions),” according to their official website.
In an interview conducted by Daily News Egypt with one of Bey2ollak’s co-founders Gamal El-Din last year, he said that after three years of operating, he doesn’t see that the traffic is getting better, but rather “has worsened actually,” adding that when they started the application, they weren’t hoping to solve the traffic problem, they were just offering help.
Despite the fact that both presidential candidates Abdel Fatah al-Sisi and Hamdeen Sabbahi have conducted several interviews to discuss their presidential platform, neither has discussed the traffic problems thoroughly, nor announced plans to decrease traffic congestion in Egypt and reduce road accidents.
The presidential elections are scheduled to take place on May 26 and 27.