Watch Out!


Living in the city of Addis Abeba means using the streets either as a driver or a pedestrian. This represents danger as numerous risks on the road can and do result in fatality, serious injury and property damage.

On the morning of every July 31, residents, shoppers and shopkeepers around 18 Mazoria in Kolfe district come together to light candles in memory of those who lost their lives in a horrific accident that occurred on that date six years ago.

A flat bed truck, that was carrying two containers, came down a slippery, sloping road at an unrestrained speed. Witnesses recall that rainy day, when the truck hit a midi-bus standing on the street that dissects the neighbourhood’s open market. Eighteen passengers and eight bystanders died in the accident, many more were injured. The residents themselves had to carry out most of the rescue effort. The arduous task of untangling the dead from the living, the bodies from the debris took all day. By the end, the asphalt was covered in a blood red sheen.

Residents now recall a lady who was operating from a makeshift shop right on the path of danger. She had felt the kind of desperation that caused her to intuitively throw the infant she was carrying into the air. He survived. She did not.

Wasihun Argaw is another survivor of that accident.

“The truck was careening down the path,” he recalled. “It hit a drove of donkeys, hit my car, and then went on to crash into the midi-bus.”

The two years before that, the district saw the highest number of human casualties in the city 483. This figure is more than three times that of the district with the lowest number of casualties – Addis Ketama.

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Yet, when contextualised, these numbers are not as grave. Kolfe is a considerably large area covering 65sqkm. It is the fourth largest district in Addis Abeba and its population of half a million, is the highest in the city. The numbers are high but the density is relatively low.

In contrast, the sparsely populous district of Aqaqi-Qality, in relation to its population and area, has experienced the highest rate of heavy injuries and death. On average, 148 out of every 100,000 people in Aqaqi-Qality sustain injuries get hit by cars every year. Among them 84 are classified as heavily injured while 23 of those die.

Addis has also experienced a significant increase in the number of accidents. The incidence of car crashes rose by 12.7pc to 20,422 last year, when over 400 people died and 2,755 were left to live with an array of injuries. Twelve of every 100,000 Addis dwellers lose their lives as a result of road accidents annually.

Authorities in what became the deadliest district in the city become alarmed. Aqaqi-Qality planned to reduce its accidents by 40pc in the current year. Conversely, the District’s latest half-year report shows an increase of 46pc in all accidents. While the number of deaths directly caused by these accidents has decreased by one in the last six months, accidents involving inanimate objects increased by 233 to 865 over the same period.

Despite an almost unanimous claim by dwellers and residents in the district that the rate of accidents has decreased, each person with whom Fortune spoke, could easily recount gruesome details of three or four accidents that happened in the last few months.

All attributed the reduced rate to completion of a new alternative road that has reduced traffic flow on the main road, which used to be the only southern exit and entry to the city.

Witnesses to many an accident, Tadesse Getachew and his co-worker, both security personnel, work to secure the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia’s branch in front of Saint Kidanemihret Church in Qality. By occupation, they keep an eye on the street, alternating days and nights.

“This has been much less crowded since the other road was opened,” said Tadesse.

They promptly went on to describe the recent accidents to which they have been privy in the past few months, one involving a minibus and a truck, a hit and run, a hit and kill, and one heavily injured pedestrian. They have even helped call the police and hospital.

“The decrease in traffic has resulted in more speed,” Tadesse said. ”Now, even from my seat [at the entrance of Selam Building which enjoys a 50m setback from the street], their speed unnerves me.”

“A minibus came racing and hit a Sinotruk that was parked,” said Asfaw Zewdie (Col.) as he walked out of his office to take a smoke break.

He works at KK Textile Factory, 800m down the road he derisively described as “always full of accidents.”

“It looked like the front half was peeled backwards before killing both passengers instantly,” the Colonel recounted shaking his head. “There were torn limbs stuck in the back of the car.”

Though the district traffic police do not have a system of gathering street specific empirical data, Deputy Inspector Yidnekachew Abebe, who is in charge of collecting and analysing accident data, described this 800m as the most dangerous strip in Qality.

Mulugeta, a chauffeur who frequents the road, attributed the problem to its narrow width, the lack of street lights, and vehicles that use their high-beam lights rendering drivers of cars car coming in the opposite direction practically blind, giving way to head-on collisions.

While Aqaqi-Qality has the highest rate of heavy accidents, Bole ranks within the top three districts whose two-year record shows it to be one of the districts most susceptible to accidents in general, and categorically, to death and serious injury.

Some residents have actually been scarred by the frequently recurring horrors – as they describe it themselves.

“I can’t leave my home without first praying, pleading that I not see any gruesome accidents that day,” said Firezewd Habte, a lady who has owns a laundry on the ground floor of a condominium that directly overlooks one of Addis’s most dangerous streets. “I once saw an accident that wouldn’t let me sleep for a week.”

Her shop overlooks the area preceding the Bole Rwanda roundabout, on the ring road that goes from Bole International Airport to St. Joseph’s Church and eventually to Qality. Ring roads are not designed to accommodate pedestrians crossing at reasonable intervals. A pedestrian overpass has been built at varying intervals, and safely crossing the street could be a 760m walk, or a two kilometre trek.

A long-time customer of hers, Mesfin Tadesse, was at her shop at the time. He has witnessed accidents himself, and recalled the most gruesome ones: a large, elderly woman that was hit by car and died instantly and a child that received the same fate. Bole’s statistics show that 14 out of every 100,000 people die in the district every year and 74 are severely injured. Forty eight deaths from traffic accidents were recorded last year.

Regardless, he too came to the shop crossing where it is not allowed, by jumping over a series of iron and concrete railings instead of making the 340m round-trip to and from the nearest zebra crossing at the roundabout. He then jay-walked back to the other side – to the house he and his wife have lived in since 1989 – to bring back some neckties he wants dry cleaned.

“Most of us on either side of the road are edirtegnas,” he explained, citing membership to a traditional socio-economic community association that has been part of urban Ethiopia for generations now.

Many efforts that have been undertaken, rather unsuccessfully, to prevent jay-walking – from assigning traffic police round the clock to 50 Br fines and temporary detention for this offence.

“Why is this even a ring road?” he implored. “It’s a very urban area.”

Urban planners agree.

Manalush, an urban planner who has practiced and taught her craft, argues that ring roads, by definition, should not be placed in the middle of the city. Rings roads are supposed to be placed between cities, as the Addis-Adama toll road is, or around vast settlements, like industrial parks for instance, that require only one entry.

While she concedes that pedestrians should not have to walk a kilometre on either side before being able to cross the street, as is the case at the entrance to Bole Airport’s Customs, increasing the number of pedestrian bridges, she claims, will not do the trick.

“We have done so much on creating traffic,” she said, “but not nearly enough on channelling.”

The solution now, she proposes, is to eliminate the reason for crossing the street in the first place. Not by building fences, but by the providing all necessary programmes, functions and facilities on both sides of the street. Public transport should also be forced to drop off and pick up their passengers only at the crossing points already provided. These should be in proximity to public amenities, shops and services. According to her theory, if Mesfin had access to a laundry on his side of the road, he would not have had to jay-walk four times just to get his neckties dry cleaned.

Even more explanations were forthcoming, all pointing to challenges in road design.

“They are called black spots,” said Sime Belay, director of Road Safety & Assurance at the Federal Transport Authority.

The city does not have a system of documenting road specific data. Crashes in which police have been called to the scene will have recorded only general characteristics. Date and time, road features like separation of lanes, type of intersection, bends, or slopes are documented. Yet even these data are not fully available as three weeks of searching has revealed that not all districts have the similar recording mechanisms. In others where such are in place, they are not adhered to, so the data for some months are entered but others are not.

Yet some roads have witnessed enough accidents to have caught the authorities’ attention and have been labelled “black spots”. These are around the areas commonly referred to as Bole Gumruk, the aforementioned 18 Mazoria, Wossen Grocery in Yeka district, and Jacross Square in Bole District.

He maintains that there are design errors and that there are two ways to solve them. The first, cheaper method is to provide enough warning system to make drivers aware of the situation ahead. These could be done via traffic signals and informative signals painted onto the pavement.

The second, more financially demanding solution is complete redesign, Sime continued.

“These were designed before we knew we can practically build overpasses and underpasses,” Sime added.

The need for increased and improved traffic signs was also underscored by Sileshi Dejene, a presenter on Sheger 102.1 FM’s, ‘Car Talk’, who also owns a maintenance workshop.

He believes that roads should have the kind of traffic signs that cannot be missed. Not only should there be signs that relate to the driver the nature of upcoming conditions, there should also be blinking amber coloured lights that demand attention to the signs and signals danger ahead, he recommended.

“If a driver ignores all these, then it is matter of discipline,” he said, “which brings me to my next point.”

The only thing that can help add to technical knowledge, he said, more than the futile efforts of adding laws, regulations, and penalties, is to dispense it regularly through the media.

Yeka District is also notorious for the rate of death it sees every year. Both the district police and traffic police on road duty in the area identified the road from Karra to Wessen. This is another point of entry to the city that exhibits long distances of downward sloping roads as one goes towards the heart of the city. This is the most dangerous in the District, according to the police.

Truck drivers agree. They say driving downhill for long distances creates its own problems. The wheels get heated up and braking becomes difficult no matter the environment. If there is drizzle, the road becomes slippery, making braking almost impossible, they claim.

As the point of contact between a car and the road is miniscule – a fraction of the wheel’s surface at a time – friction, and therefore slipping, is an ever-present danger. This was confirmed by Sileshi who spoke from the perspective of 30 years of experience in car maintenance..

“Drivers should be able to read signs and know their vehicles’ state of road worthiness before trouble manifests itself,” Sileshi stated. “They should also be able to assess how different conditions affect their cars. Carrying and braking capacities are essential,” he stressed.

Drivers carrying loads also need technical knowledge that could enhance their driving and thus safety on the road.

A load full of dry gravel, which could weigh about 30 tonnes in a regular 18-cubic metre Sinotruk, and the same volume of water, both common essentials in construction, differs by 12tn. In some cases the variation could exist within the same material. Wet sand and dry sand, for instance, differ by almost six tonnes, Sileshi explained.

“Drivers should know how much of what to carry, and determine the speeds that should be driven at and the allowances required for braking accordingly,” he advised.

But residents along the road to Wosen are actually thankful now. Repeating pairs of speed bumps have been introduced on to the long steep road.

“I have lost my neighbour and her kids to a car that was speeding by in the wrong direction,” said a lady, who requested to remain anonymous.

She lives and operates her shop cum café right in front of the road she described as deadly.

“The only thing that disturbs us now is the noise the cars make all night they take each bump at slow pace, taking much longer to finish the road,” she said.

Nevertheless, 12 in every 100,000 people that live in Yeka, die every year in car accidents. And car accidents remain in the top 12 causes of death in Ethiopia, causing 2.5pc of the country’s overall deaths, according to WHO studies.

Experienced drivers attribute many issues to chauffeur inexperience.

Wasihun, who has driven public transport vehicles for over 20 years believes that subsequent levels of licences should be issued progressively. Thereby forcing drivers to amass a wealth of experience by the time they are able to drive the kind of vehicles with the potential to do more harm, due to size or passenger number.

Sileshi, concurred with Wasihun’s analysis and reiterated the need for stronger traffic signals.

However, most accidents are caused by over speeding, not giving way to pedestrians or other cars, driving too close the car upfront, and inappropriate lane changes, according to Deputy Inspector Assefa Mezgebu, Addis Police Commission Public Relations Expert. He agreed that more should be done at training centres and in continuous technical education.

Sileshi agreed with the Inspector, arguing that not enough studies have been carried out to properly identify the problem and causative agents. Consequentially, it was difficult to respond effectively to problems and to make changes in policy.

The Inspector, however, stipulated that more should be done in enforcing regulations, that enforcement should be supported with more technology.

While he agreed that more studies should be carried out, he does not believe that is the job of the Police Commission, which is the only office that is called upon to send officers to the scene of every accident.

He admitted that though road building has been a priority for so long, working on traffic has not been considered of similar importance. Issues of engineering, signs, enforcement, and technical training have plagued the streets and have not been responded to because of financial limitations.

“But now, by hook or by crook, we have to start thinking about it,” he surmised, insisting that it is up to the Authority to do so.

He believes the police have done their part, buying vehicles with which to patrol. Though he did not mention it, police records are also important in determining the way forward and this is acknowledged by the Transport Authority.

“We get all our data from the police, hospitals and insurance companies,” said Sime who is in charge of safety at the FTA; indicating that their knowledge is as good as what they are given.

A relatively new office, dubbed the Traffic Management Bureau was formed at the beginning of last year. After the city Authority builds the roads, it is the Bureau’s duty to provide necessary signals and requests for redesign.

While the Bureau is operational, it is still in the process of hiring personnel.

Against this backdrop, people continue to suffer the consequences. Unfortunately, the number of accidents has risen to cause 16pc more damage in 2014/2015 than in the year before. Five thousand two hundred eighty four people have been injured in the past two years waiting for the authorities to figure out who is responsible and to take necessary action with urgency.

Until then, residents of the capital city will continue to be reminded of their worst experiences every day as scars and lost limbs are not realities easily left behind.

Every single day Addis Abeba is witness to an average of 52 vehicular accidents.



Published on Apr 08,2016 [ Vol 16 ,No 831]



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