Notes from the field: a week in Dar Es Salaam
The FIA Foundation is working with two road safety partners in Tanzania, injury prevention NGO Amend and the Automobile Association of Tanzania.
In this blog our Programmes Coordinator, Monalisa Adhikari (centre, above) describes her recent visit to the two projects. Photos by Sala Lewis.
On a humid afternoon in April, I joined members of AMEND, one of the FIA Foundations’ partner organisations in Tanzania, to visit catchments areas surrounding Kilimahewa Primary School in Tandika, Temeke district. The FIA Foundation is currently funding the SARSAI (School Area Road Safety Assessments and Improvement) project in Tanzania, which aims to understand the scale of child road traffic injuries and find solutions through research, infrastructural improvements, public advocacy and educational training in 18 schools in Dar Es Salaam. The project works in some of the poorest areas, most vulnerable to road traffic injuries around schools in Dar es Salaam. I noticed that the roads were poorly maintained, with pot holes, in some cases high vehicle flows including heavy trucks, and mostly without crossings or road signage across crowded informal settlements where children run across the roads escaping vehicles to reach their schools.
Although road accidents and traffic injuries rates are high in the entire Sub-Saharan region in Africa, there is no accurate data on its prevalence and its nature at this level. Currently, the project is in its inception phase, where AMEND’s team is conducting population based surveys to solicit baseline data on injuries amongst children around their school areas. There are specific challenges in carrying out household surveys in informal settlements that have no house numbers, and there is often more than one household living in one house. I noticed that the researchers have worked out a practical solution to deal with the challenge - by marking the surveyed houses with a chalk to delineate them from those houses that have not been surveyed. I also met with children and families around Tandika where the survey was being conducted and got a sense that road traffic injuries are of frequent occurrence and thus a major concern for the locals.
The next day, I joined the AMEND team again to visit the Kibasila Primary School, where AMEND’s road safety instructors were delivering two sessions to school children on road safety. The lesson plan for these sessions was developed through inputs from various stakeholders and comprises a classroom workshop combined with practical outdoor exercises on how to cross roads, how to be visible to vehicles, and other safety messages. Given the interactive format, children enjoyed actively participing: raising their hands to answer questions on road signs, volunteering for opportunities to play a pedestrian in a role play, and laughing loud on demonstrations on how not to cross busy roads. Amongst the smiling faces of children and the echoes of Jambo (Hello in Swahili) from the other school staffs, I meet Husna. Husna, 12 years old girl, was hit by a car while playing outside her home resulting in injuries including a broken ankle. The incident has changed her life, leaving Husna with traumatic pain in her legs, especially in winter, and an open wound which still waits to be healed. Now Husna relies on her older sister escorting her to school. It has also altered the life of her grandmother, who she lives with, having to pay for medical costs and manage time for hospital appointments along with managing the household. Seeing children like Husna is a stark reminder of why the Foundation invests in this kind of work, and of the pressing need in countries like Tanzania for a broader strategy encompassing safe road users, safer vehicles and safer roads, and strengthening post-injury care to benefits children like her.
In addition to the SARSAI project the FIA Foundation also funds the Automobile Association of Tanzania (AAT) to train Boda Boda (commercial motorcycle taxis) riders. This funding is provided through the FIA Road Safety Grant programme administered by the FIA. Across Tanzanian roads, boda bodas are a popular mode of transport and motorbikes alone make up around 51% of the vehicle fleet.
The sheer scale of boda boda as a transport system has increased mobility for both urban and rural Tanzanian settings and has also helped generate employment and contributed to the local economy. However, it has brought a serious level of road traffic crashes and injuries. Studies indicate that road traffic injury rates among boda boda drivers are more than fourteen times greater than the rates among other members of the community. During my visit, I had the opportunity to meet Commander Mohammed Mpinga, Head of the Traffic Police Department and Deputy Commissioner of the Police Force. We discussed the enforcement challenges he faces, under-reporting of injuries and problems of regulating boda bodas. The Commander told me that ‘bodas bodas operating without a license are a massive problem.’ A lot of the time boda boda riders operate without licenses or insurances, which inhibits them from reporting to the police as operating without licenses is a violation of traffic law and incurs fines. Mr Mpinga also acknowledged that enforcement was an issue in Tanzania. With 4500 traffic police officers spread across the 28 regions of Tanzania, a severe lack of equipment like speed radars, simulators and alcohol detecting machines, and limited community based interventions and trainings, there are limitations to the capacity of the Traffic Police Department. However, on a positive note he also shared that a new curriculum to train boda boda riders is likely to be introduced by the end of this year, which will help in promoting safety of boda boda riders and the passengers they carry.
In this brief visit, I attended a training session conducted by AAT and the Traffic Police Force in Kibaha district. I was impressed at the sheer number of training participants; a total of 130 riders turned up to attend the session. Most of them are young men. The training is spread across 7 days with 1-2 hours daily session. On the first day of the training I was able to meet some of the riders themselves. As a recipient of our funding for the last 3 years, AAT and the Traffic Police Department have trained around 4000 boda boda riders. Upon the completion of the training, AAT provides a training certificate, which allows the drivers to go and apply for their license. The riders I met seemed to see the certificate as the motivation for attending their training. To operate commercially, the drivers are required to belong to an association of boda boda drivers, which is an organised mechanism created to regulate the industry. However, a lot of associations themselves are informal in nature and not formally registered. At the training, I had the opportunity to hear from Mr. Fredrick Msechu, Chairperson of one of the associations, who highlighted that lack of financial resources had been a problem for them to register formally and have a dedicated office space. He also added that the fees paid by the member drivers to the association are spent on treating the drivers for their accidents and injuries.
During my stay in Tanzania, newspapers, radio and television were filled with news of collisions and deaths on roads. The same week an online Chinese news portal quoted the police authorities in Tanzania stating that 866 people were killed and 2,336 others were injured in road crashes that occurred across Tanzania between January and March 2015 alone. Amidst challenges around enforcement of traffic laws, availability of safety equipment like helmets, limited resources, unsafe roads, challenges of accurate reporting of crashes and injuries, what is encouraging is the commitment from different sectors to work to improve road safety. In this context, the collaborative efforts of the Automobile Association of Tanzania, National Road Safety Council, and the Traffic Police Department and NGOs like AMEND is immensely encouraging. My visit enabled me to better understand the local context in Tanzania, the sheer scale of the need to promote road safety in the country and the intricacies of managing road safety projects. Looking back, the week was an incredible learning experience where I have been able to look beyond numbers and statistics that I often rely on to explore the impact of our work, and be able to interact with people who need, collaborate, and benefit from our efforts.
Monalisa Adhikari is Programmes Coordinator at the FIA Foundation.