Abdul Qadir is bringing new solutions to the skyrocketing road accidents that injure, kill, and permanently disable tens of thousands of victims each year, many of them children. He is doing so by building a coalition of support to educate the public about road safety, improve emergency response systems, and ensure that all victims get the proper care they need.
The New Idea
Abdul has founded the first organization in Pakistan to comprehensively address the rising problem of traffic safely and road deaths. Beginning in Karachi, where vehicular traffic has more than doubled over the last year, Abdul focuses on three interrelated strategies. The first and most important is to ensure that victims of road accidents—especially children—receive the proper legal and medical support, no matter where they come from or how poor their families. Simple steps like helping victims register and report incidents at the proper police department have already helped thousands get treatment they are otherwise denied. Second, through his Social Research and Development Organization (SRDO), Qadir works to improve road maintenance and monitoring, and most importantly, emergency response systems. In partnership with the City Government he has founded the first emergency response hotline, complete with student volunteers that document accidents, register victims, and facilitate the police and ambulance workers to respond to all incidents quickly and effectively. Finally, Qadir is promoting road safety education by working through schools and public awareness campaigns. Much of this is targeted towards children and public vehicle drivers initially to reduce pedestrian accidents. But through radio and advertisement banners, he hopes to generate a citizen-driven campaign to improve road safety and crack down on the worst offenders. As Qadir perfects his model in Karachi, he plans to adopt its strategies to Pakistan’s other large cities where incidents of road accidents and deaths are also high and on the rise.
According to independent research, every year 1.7 million people die in road accidents around the world. About 70 percent of deaths occur in developing countries, out of which 65 percent are of pedestrians, and as many as 35 percent of those are children. Over 10 million people are badly wounded every year. In Pakistan, road deaths have claimed 50,000 lives over the last decade, and they are on the rise. Like elsewhere around the world, pedestrians and children make up a disproportionately large percentage of the injured or killed. People waiting for buses and crossing streets are regularly hit and run over by big public vehicles like buses and wagons. School buses and vans drive with impudence to keep time, and the roadworthiness of vehicles are rarely checked by the Government despite legal requirements to do so. Beyond the tragic loss of lives, traffic injuries and deaths also cost the Pakistani government an estimated Rs. 5B annually.
While the issue has gained more attention in recent years, neither government nor civil society have made much progress. Indeed, despite the rise in incidents, the state has not yet been able to pass the National Road Safety Plan, which will be vital to implementing strategies to reduce road deaths. The problem is exacerbated by organized gangs and mafia that control many private buses and wagons responsible for the rise in injuries. These mafias pay huge bribes to government and traffic police officials for protection for violating traffic rules and regulations.
To complicate matters further, road accident victims in Pakistan receive medical treatment once the legal officer posted at major hospitals has officially registered a case. In many cases, however, the poor are unable to get the ‘First Investigation Registration’ completed and are therefore denied the healthcare, legal help, or compensation they deserve. The burden of injured or permanently disabled family members thus falls entirely to families, representing a heavy emotional and economic burden.
Road traffic injury prevention must be incorporated into a broad range of activities, such as the development and management of road infrastructure, the provision of safer vehicles, law formulation and enforcement, mobility planning, the provision of health and hospital services, child welfare services, and urban and environmental planning. And yet a first step must be to ensure victims are getting processed through the bureaucracy and receive the care they need.
Qadir has been working on traffic issues since his college days but in 2000 he established the Social Research and Development Organization (SRDO). Abdul Qadir focused on children as an entry point since they are the most innocent and vulnerable groups, and because issues regarding children resonate most with citizens and Government. He visited dozens of hospitals to see and talk with child victims of traffic accidents. Initially he dealt with cases on an individual basis, bringing in lawyers to represent victims. But as he began to see the structural problems that keep churning children into hospitals, he began to think more strategically about solutions. Abdul Qadir founded SRDO with his friends, which was initially a volunteer service that helps victims and their families register their cases with the relevant police department so that they could receive treatment and compensation.
SRDO gas gradually evolved into a coalition to comprehensively improve road safety and treatment of road accident victims. Qadir has forged a partnership with City Government to build better systems for traffic management and to improve emergency services. He has also helped the hospital medico legal officers to develop a register of victims so as to better target his education services and to help City Government take an informed decision on road safety measures.
In addition, SRDO worked in partnership with the government to establish an emergency response service and a helpline. Now in any accident, victims can call the helpline for immediate assistance—something that ensures proper and efficient processing of an accident, and ultimately saves lives. Abdul Qadir has also developed materials and posters and contacts schools for educating the students on safe road use. In addition, as child rights activists, social workers, media and others show an increasing interest in the issue of road safety, Qadir is creating roles for them as volunteers, data collectors, and spokespeople.
Abdul Qadir sees Karachi as the hub of traffic police work for the entire province of Sindh. He feels that once the safety system for city roads has been built, he can turn to national highways—especially those sections passing through towns. Qadir has already started working with the City Government on organizing safer bus terminals, especially those in the city center. He has started liaising with the inspector of highway traffic also.
Qadir and some of his friends bear the main finances required to run the different activities of his coalition. Some local philanthropists also contribute, especially in providing healthcare facilities to the victims. SRDO does not receive any funding from institutional donor agencies. Qadir plans to establish a permanent office in Karachi and looks to forge a formal network of likeminded organizations and individuals to have more nationwide impact. He also plans to establish a resource center on traffic accident issues that can become a training and education centre for all issues related to traffic safety.
By 2010, Abdul Qadir plans to set up teams of 150 volunteers working around the clock at 50 critical locations in Karachi to provide assistance to police and emergency services workers. Each volunteer equipped with mobile phone and messaging services will call ambulances and provide victims with emergency first aid services and help them register their cases. Simultaneously he will push for schools to include basic traffic safety training for all their children. He is initially targeting government schools because the students here come from poor families and use public transportation and are most vulnerable to accidents. Finally, Qadir is planning a big media event to educate the public about safe driving so that each citizen can begin taking responsibility for making Pakistan’s roads safer. After building this system in Karachi, he plans to extend the program to Lahore, Hyderabad, and other big cities of Pakistan.
Born in 1981 in a fairly well-off family of interior Sindh, Qadir is the eldest among ten siblings. Though he often received adverse comments on his social work from his family members, he persisted with his work and after years of recognition by the media and the Government, has been able to change his family’s perceptions too.
While in college one of his best friends was critically injured in a road accident and became disabled for life. This marked the starting point for young Qadir to think about the traffic issues in Karachi. His grandfather, who has held several important positions in the Sindh government administration, was an especially strong inspiration for young Qadir to pursue his vision and persist.
In 2000 with the help of some friends he established SRDO in Karachi.