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Bangladesh protests: How dangerous are the roads?

Written by Darius Rubics

Bangladesh has been gripped by protests since two children were killed by a speeding bus in Dhaka on 29 July.

The news spread quickly via social media and the capital has seen days of sometimes violent mass protests by students calling for action.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has now told them to return to their studies and their demands will be “implemented soon and done systematically”.

So how bad is Bangladesh’s road safety record?

Data collection issues

Bangladesh government data for road deaths and injuries shows much lower figures than those from other sources, including international bodies such as the World Health Organization (WHO).

A major WHO report on road safety in 2015 used modelling to estimate that in 2013 there were between 17,349 and 25,283 road deaths in Bangladesh.

The WHO report says it used a variety of sources including official data, legislative reports and local co-ordinators who used questionnaires and spoke to experts in various fields such as the legal, health, transport and academic sectors.

The official government figure for 2013 was just 3,296.

Why such a big gap?

Safety campaigners in Bangladesh say the government figures are complied using police reports and that many accidents just don’t show up.

And a report last year for the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, which looked at road traffic injuries in rural Bangladesh, referred to “gross under-reporting” by the police.

High-profile road safety campaigner Ilias Kanchan, of the group We Demand Safer Roads, told the BBC: “Not everyone goes to the police station to file a report. And the police don’t always take action when someone does go.”

Mr Kanchan, who lost a his wife in a road accident, says that groups such as his use a combination of official reports, national and local newspaper reports and TV coverage and social media to arrive at their own figures.

Recently, a major newspaper, Prothom Alo, reported a total figure of 25,000 deaths on the roads for the past three and a half years.

One of the country’s leading road accident experts, Dr MB Shamsul Hoque, former director of the Accident Research Institute at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, has carried out research based on talking to individual police stations and toll operators on main routes in Bangladesh.

“You probably have to take the government figures and multiply them by two or three times,” he told Reality Check.

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Darius Rubics

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