Home > Local News > CAMBODIA: Traffic accidents take humanitarian toll

CAMBODIA: Traffic accidents take humanitarian toll

Cambodian traffic can be downright dangerous. Photo: Contributor/IRIN
KANDAL, 20 December 2010 (IRIN) – Cheng Heng’s wound was minor, but the
impact on his family severe. The 31-year-old garment factory worker was
riding his motorbike to work, when he collided with a bicycle 30km west
of the capital, Phnom Penh.

His broken clavicle required surgery, costing US$250, leaving him out of work for almost a month and forcing him into debt.

As the primary breadwinner for his family of 10, contributing half the
total income of $300 a month, it will take at least three months to pay
off his debts.

Cheng hopes they will manage by working at nearby factories. “I didn’t
get any help either from NGOs or my factory,” he said.

Traffic crash “crisis”

In Cambodia, economic growth and urbanization have prompted people to
migrate to the crowded capital, where a surfeit of automobiles, lax
enforcement of traffic laws, and scant understanding of road safety
take their toll. On average, 4.7 people die in accidents each day,
according to a report by the Cambodian government and Handicap International Belgium, an NGO in Phnom Penh.

Over the past five years, the number of accidents increased by more
than 200 percent, and the number of fatalities nearly doubled to 1,717
last year.

“We’re seeing more road crashes in outskirt areas, where there’s more
speeding,” Socheata Sann, road safety programme manager at Handicap
International Belgium, said.

The numbers are part of a troubling trend in Southeast Asia countries.
In Vietnam, more than 11,000 people die in traffic accidents each year,
2,100 died in Myanmar last year.

In 2009, 1.4 million motor vehicles were registered in Cambodia, more
than double the half million registered five years earlier.

Traffic accidents tend to affect vulnerable Cambodians, many of whom
are poor. About 90 percent of crash victims ride vehicles motorbikes
and bicycles, or are pedestrians, according to the report.

Last year, road accidents cost Cambodia $248 million, according to a
study by Handicap International Belgium and Hasselt University in
Belgium, against $116 million in 2003.

Men who are family breadwinners are often injured or killed, taking a
toll on families and communities. About 80 percent of accident
casualties are in the “economically active” portion of the population,
and the peak age group is 20-29 years old, states a government report.

Families “can be tipped into poverty by costs of medical care, the loss
of the family breadwinner’s income, funeral costs”, and can suffer
social and psychological problems, Ryan Duly, Mekong regional programme
manager at the Global Road Safety Partnership, a Geneva-based network
of road safety groups, told IRIN from Bangkok.

“It is often the poorest households that are most affected as they do
not have a safety net to absorb this loss of income,” he said.

Children also face high risks; in the 5-14 age group, road accidents
are the most common cause of injury-related mortality and morbidity.

Cutting accident rate

In the next 10 years, the Cambodian government hopes to reduce the
number of road fatalities by 30 percent to 2,240 deaths from the 3,200
deaths that authorities predict.

The government passed a law in 2006 requiring motorcycle drivers to
wear helmets. No legislation, however, requires passengers to wear
helmets. Inconsistent enforcement also hampered the law’s
effectiveness, Sann told IRIN.

When police began enforcing the law in early 2009, about 90 percent of
drivers in Phnom Penh wore helmets, whereas around 12 percent of
passengers did so, according to Handicap. Fewer than half of drivers
wore helmets at night, when they were not as visible and police
officers less likely to be present.

Malaysian model

Some specialists say Cambodian officials should look to Malaysia for
its traffic safety model, which combines tough enforcement, education
and transport planning.

That country used to have a “serious problem” with motorcycles, Law
Teik Hua, a civil engineering lecturer at the Putra University Malaysia
in Selangor, Malaysia, told IRIN in Phnom Penh.

In the past three decades, the country has reduced traffic fatalities
by about 30 percent, although the number of fatalities last year nudged
up by 3.3 percent from 2008.

But he concedes changes in Cambodia, like in any country, will be
difficult. “It takes a generation to change peoples’ perceptions.”

According to the World Health Organization, about 1.3 million people
die in road accidents each year. More than 90 percent of those deaths
are in low- and middle-income countries, taking a particularly high
toll on the young and poor.

IRIN asia
Categories: Local News
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