All those who are killed, injured or suffer lasting ill effects in
road accidents have a network of family and friends who are also
affected. In Lesotho the dangerous nature of road traffic is a serious
and rapidly growing social problem, because those most severely affected
are in the 18-44 age group which is the group involved in building up
the country’s economy and future. Speeding, lack of respect for the law
and fellow road users, failure to use seat belts and drunken driving are
causing the accident figures to rise at a tragically high rate. With the
exception of Ethiopia proportionally more people are killed in traffic
in Lesotho than in any other African country.
Lesotho is entirely surrounded by its neighbour South Africa and has approximately 2.2 million inhabitants. Two-thirds of the country is mountainous and inaccessible, with a road network of varying quality. Large parts of the country are therefore thinly populated, with the towns concentrated at the lower levels.
In order to be able to take the right measures in the right places the responsible authorities need access to statistics and an efficient national accident database, something that today’s system does not provide. The software is difficult to use, the analytical tools are unsophisticated and Internet connections are unreliable. Obtaining properly completed police reports – on whose data the whole database depends – is a major problem.
“Funds have hitherto been an obstacle to the creation of an effective database, but with fresh money from the World Bank we have every hope of being able to complete our project, even if it will take time,” says Phumla Moleko, information officer at the Ministry of Road Transport.
The education programme has given Phumla Moleko insight into the many aspects of road safety work.
“I can now relate to everything from technical aspects to training and traffic studies. Having a broad practical knowledge of, for example, how a road safety audit is performed will make my work a lot easier. The programme has made stern demands and has not always been easy, but I really have learnt a great deal!”
One important task is to improve ministerial relations with the police and to ensure that reports are completed and dispatched for analysis and input into the database.
“The form that the police have to fill in must be supplemented and above all it must ask the right questions,” says Thapelo Mahase, who together with his superior Kinini Mathews is working to investigate the underlying causes of accidents that occur.
“Statistics are our most important tool for identifying problem areas, and the road safety education has really emphasized the importance of a good system. More than ever I have realized why work on road safety problems is so important.
The programme has also given Phumla Moleko and Thapelo Mahase a great deal on a personal level.
“Gaining new friends from all over Africa has been an experience. I have learned from the other participants and I have made new contacts who I know are working on the same questions. I know who I can e-mail and ask if I am wondering about a particular problem,” says Phumla Moleko.