Thousands Of Kilometres Of Balochistan's Roads Remain Unpatrolled, With Deadly Consequences

Thousands Of Kilometres Of Balochistan's Roads Remain Unpatrolled, With Deadly Consequences
“It was the 29th of January, a Saturday, early in the morning at 04:30 AM when we came out of home and started the journey towards Karachi. We were just crossing a roundabout near Khezai Chowk when we met a horrible accident. A Fielder vehicle collided with our vehicle,” recalls Nargis Hyder Shah.

“As a result, my husband died on the spot, and I got injuries on my head, neck and a broken hand. Our two children, one and six years old respectively, were also injured in the incident,” adds Shah while talking to me. Our one-year-old child was in critical condition but the doctors did their best and saved him.”

Her ordeal continued at the hospital:

“It was early in the morning and there was no traffic on the road, and that’s why rescue teams came and shifted us to the hospital. As I got very injured, the Trauma Center management denied admitting me there. Then family members shifted me to Karachi and got me admitted to Aga Khan Hospital. After one-and-a-half month’s hospitalization, I recovered from my injuries.

Shah holds a Master’s degree in International Relations (MA-IR) from the University of Balochistan in 2014. She adds:

“Life never stopped after losing someone, but we can’t delete memories of our beloved one. I am living to educate my children and give them a new life. My late husband was a very great man who supported the needy people. I feel happy when listening to good words and prayers from people about him.”

Shah has requested the government of Balochistan and the federal government to make a double carriageway from Quetta to Karachi and on the Zhob Route to decrease the death toll from a rise in traffic accidents.

According to the National Safety Strategy 2018-2030, 6,548 people lost their lives at the scene of an accident on Pakistan’s roads in 2016, of which 355 fatalities happened on national highways and 6,003 on provincial roads. The report is administered by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and cites police data.

People's Primary Healthcare Initiative (PPHI), a company sponsored by the Government of Balochistan, established a Medical Emergency Response Centers (MERC) project in October 2019 to control the death toll in traffic accidents. Aziz Ahmed Jamali, then CEO of PPHI and Project Director MERC, informs us that people lost lives in accidents essentially due to blood loss, bone fractures and severe pain. Rescue workers of MERC provide lifesaving services on the spot, which is a huge contribution towards accident response.

According to the report of the MERC and Rescue-1122 Balochistan, 624 patients have died in traffic accidents on the Quetta-Karachi route from October 2019 to 31 August 2022. MERC teams responded to 23,418 accidents on time, where 31,412 injured were provided first aid treatment from October 2019 to 31 August 2022.

It was found that the death toll had significantly decreased on roads after operations of MERC. “Our rescue workers are playing a vital role to save lives,” says Mr. Asghar Ramzan, who is Director-General MERC Balochistan. He adds that there are 18 rescue centers on Quetta-Karachi, Quetta-Zhob, Quetta-Loralai and Quetta-Jaffarabad route. “People can call 1122 directly to our control room to get an emergency response from one of our nearest centers during an emergency situation along the above-mentioned routes of National Highways.” He further adds: 23 equipped ambulances are operational and 486 staff have been deployed on roads, and they are providing first aid services to the injured.

Apart from that, MERC 1122 has introduced an Advanced Life Support (ALS) Ambulance for the most critical patients. 90 patients were shifted by ALS Ambulance service to main cities of Pakistan for treatment. The MERC teams are ready 24/7 hours on roads. The maximum distance between two centers is 80 km and recorded response time is 8 to 10 minutes.

"The Provincial Transport Authority doesn’t have the power to take action on violations of traffic accidents. We just recommend Motorway Police and Levies Force for action on violations. That’s why we are losing huge amounts of revenue annually,” adds Zafar Iqbal Kubdani, Secretary Provincial Transport Authority (PTA) Balochistan. The authority is still working on a manual system and “we are unable to collect and combine the data properly in official format,” he adds.

Mr. Kubdani adds:

“The Provincial Transport Authority Balochistan had issued more than 6,000 route permits to the passenger carrier buses. We have installed 316 trackers in transport buses to control over-speeding. In this regard the department has established a control room for complaints registration.”

He further adds: “We do cancel permits of buses on heavy life losses and in other cases just arrest drivers and fine them. The authority has cancelled the route permit of five buses. We have written many letters to the district administration to take action on violation of departmental rules, calling for action against those transporters, but they are unable to do so,” Mr. Kubdani reveals.

He adds: “We have got the authority of the judicial magistrate, and the Government of Balochistan has approved the establishment of a special force for the Provincial Transport Authority. We will start the recruitment process very soon. After that we will take strict action against transporters for violation of traffic rules.

The motorway covers 150 km on N-25 at Uthal, 210 km from Abdul Rehman Cross Kalat to Yaro Cross Pishin, and only 100 km on Killa Saifullah N-50 from Kuchlak to Muslim Bagh. The Motorway Police also covers 160 km on N-10 Gwadar from Makola to Jiwani Zero Point on the coastal belt, according to Basharat Ali, Spokesperson for the National Highways and Motorway Police.

According to the report received from National Highways and Motorway Police Balochistan, challans were issued to 131,116 motorcyclists riding without helmets, 134,438 vehicles driving without fastened seat belts and 11,285 wagon drivers carrying passengers in a dangerous position from January 2018 to August 2022.

The report revealed that traffic violations have decreased. The Motorway officials issued challans to 5,546 drivers in 2018, which increases to 6,931 in 2019. The ratio decreased in 2020 and 5,736 challans were issued. According to the report, it has decreased in 2021 (2,016 challans were issued) and from January to August 2022 (1,886 challans were issued).

Apart from these penalties for infractions, the National Highways and Motorway Police conduct awareness sessions with transporters, the general public, students of school, college and university – and educate them about traffic rules. This awareness helkps to decrease traffic rules violations and promotes safe driving on roads.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) in its 65th session held on 6 June 1979 at Geneva gave recommendations on driving and other work during the running time of the vehicle; and subsidiary work in connection with the vehicle, its passenger or its load, and said that normal working hours should not exceed eight per day as an average. The ILO further recommends that no driver should be allowed to drive continuously for more than four hours without a break.

Unfortunately, there is no proper way to patrol thousands of kilometers of highways, given the limited police manpower in the province. Especially on the Quetta-Karachi Road, the drivers drive continuously for up to 72 hours without any proper rest. Moreover, the drivers are untrained and they learn only from accidents – at a huge human cost.