Why did six students die in Karachi during road construction?

Published: February 21, 2017
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Pakistani labourers work at a construction site of an underpass near a Hindu temple in Karachi. PHOTO: AFP

Pakistani labourers work at a construction site of an underpass near a Hindu temple in Karachi. PHOTO: AFP

For a city deprived of maintenance and developmental work for years, Karachi welcomed the recent infrastructure projects initiated by the Sindh government. However, the death of six students as a result of these constructions has raised many questions about the efficiency of the city and its planning process.

Cost of ‘development’: City loses six students to road accidents this month

To avoid a repeat of such incidents, there’s a need to closely look at the factors that contributed to the fatal accidents.

No regards for pedestrians

Planning in Karachi is done with motorists in mind, not pedestrians and this mentality is evident as there are no proper footpaths, not enough pedestrian bridges or effective zebra crossings on the roads.

In cities around the world, the pedestrians’ right of way supersedes all vehicles travelling on a road. The traffic laws provide safety to people on foot because the city values their lives and offenders are handed severe penalties for any violation.

Precious lives can be saved and injuries can be prevented if administrators in Karachi give pedestrians their due consideration in all phases of planning. With safe bus stops, smooth footpaths and approachable bridges, pedestrians in Karachi will not have to put their life on the line to get from one destination to another.

Disorganised construction

The commuters who use University Road – one of the under-construction roads in Karachi – on a daily basis found out about its redevelopment the very morning the work started. Vehicles were haphazardly diverted to broken and encroached service lanes, and only a handful of traffic police officials were present to manage the crowd.

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Management guidelines for construction zones are very comprehensive worldwide but in Karachi, they are non-existent. Effective management of construction sites by installing warning signs, informing the public about development plans in a timely fashion and deploying traffic controllers can make an otherwise difficult process, smooth sailing.

Additionally, like in other countries where construction at night has proven to be effective, it should be introduced in Karachi. This would mean quicker work and less traffic to manage.

Broken public transport system

For a majority of Karachi residents who don’t own an automobile, public buses are their main source of transport. However, unlike big cities in other parts of the world, Karachi probably has the worst public transport system. Rusty vehicles, untrained drivers and no timetable make Karachi’s public transport inconsistent, unreliable and unsafe.

Had there been proper bus stops for passengers to wait, spacious vehicles to avoid overcrowding and skilled drivers with knowledge and respect for traffic rules, innocent lives may not have been lost.

No accountability

Loss of life due to negligence is a grave offence in the civilised world but in Karachi, all the culprits – the construction company, the drivers and the government – get away with the crime easily and that is why these fatal accidents keep happening again and again.

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There’s no accountability of the contractor who failed to provide safe and accessible rerouting of traffic, inform the public about the development plans and install warning signs in the construction zone. There will be no inquiry against the drivers who sped on a broken road and ran over waiting passengers. And no one will question the government who turned a blind eye and allowed all this to happen at the expense of its citizens.

Ali Lawati is a transportation consultant and a published author.

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