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Insurgency, crime, disease lack of health care — citizens of Afghanistan face many dangers in their daily lives. But one of the major problems in urban centers is traffic: a large number of Afghans are injured or killed in car accidents every year.
In fact, incidents involving vehicles are the ninth leading cause of death in Afghanistan, behind war and other injuries, but well ahead of another major hazard, giving birth. More than 6,000 Afghans die in traffic accidents each year.
According to the World Health Organization, Afghanistan ranks 23 out of 172 countries in terms of traffic deaths, with 27.82 fatalities per 100,000 population. By contrast, the Number One country for vehicle deaths is Iran, with 43.54 deaths per 100,000, while the lowest level is in the Maldives, with just 1.05.
The reasons for Afghanistan’s abysmal standing are many; among the most commonly cited are poorly maintained roads, failure to observe traffic laws, and inadequate policing.
In Herat, for example, the transit highway between the provincial capital and Islam Qala is one of the deadliest stretches in the country.
Just 122 kilometers long, the Islam Qala highway has claimed more than 50 lives since March, 2015 (the start of 1394 according to the Afghan calendar).
“There have been about five car accidents in the last few months,” said Aziz ul Rahman Jami, head of the emergency ward at Herat Hospital. “In each incident about five to ten individuals have been injured and brought to our hospital.”
Latif Naqshbandi, the head of the central statistics office in Herat, attests to the fact that vehicular fatalities are up.
“We saw an increase in accidents in the first half of this year,”he said.
Drivers who use this highway frequently blame the rise in accidents on failure to observe traffic rules.
“Drivers on the road are so careless,” said Abdul Hakim Noori, who regularly uses this highway. To add to that, he explained, taxis and busses overload their vehicles with more passengers than the capacity permits.
The traffic police also bear a share of the blame, added Noori. “The police themselves don’t know the laws and don’t obey them,” he complained. “They also take bribes from offending drivers.”
Paiwandgāh approached Herat’s department of traffic accidents, but they refused to comment.
Experts in road engineering blame the quality of the roads for the spike in fatalities. “The width of the Islam Qala highway is shorter than the standard street and that is likely to causes traffic problems,”said Ezatullah Ahmadi, a civil engineer. “Road dividers and separate lanes for trucks could help reduce the number of accidents significantly on the Islam Qala highway.”
He added that even something as simple as installing more traffic signs, along with better traffic management could bring the problem under control.