Last night, Adil, the eight-year-old son of Mustafa, the gardener who tends many of the gardens in this neighborhood, was killed by a truck whilst playing in the street outside his home.
A quiet serious child with a lovely smile; Adil often came with his father and played in our garden.
A tragic addition to the officially estimated 8,000 people who die annually on Egypt’s road (2010 survey released by the Interior Ministry). A number contested by the Cairo based Arab Road Association, which puts the real number of accidents as exceeding 125,000.
This is the reality of Cairo, Egypt, a city the size of Greater London with an overflowing population. There are almost no public green spaces for children to play in, and sidewalks and pedestrian overpasses are a rarity. Children must play in the streets and everyone must walk on the overcrowded roads.
In a dense neighborhood of high-rises nearby there is one small green patch with flowering bushes and trees. At night it is full to bursting with women and children picnicking and playing. Cars, lorries and motorbikes, jostling noisily, completely encircle this happy scene.
There are no walkways to this green inner circle. Four major roads spit out their honking belching cargo unceasingly. There are no opportunities to cross safely. Women and children weave, running, across the road.
According to the Egyptian Transport Ministry less than 1% of drivers stop for pedestrians.
An AUC student 2010 survey found that 30% of truck and trailer drivers tested positive for drug use, and 70% of all fatalities occur to pedestrians, because of an insufficient number of crosswalks and pedestrian overpasses.
A Transport Committee Report (2011) called for a national media campaign to highlight the loss of life and personal cost; emphasise its negative impact on the national economy and tourism; spread awareness of the traffic laws and road safety, amend and improve the traffic laws; and ‘educate the traffic police on the traffic laws and duty to enforce the laws’ (!).
But there are adequate traffic laws – but only perhaps 20% are enforced. The police are badly paid and poorly educated, many are unable to read or write, and ‘tips’ (bribes) are considered normal. Driving licenses can be bought, and trucks and taxis are not only unroadworthy but also the drivers can drive 18 hours a day.
Not surprisingly, Egyptian roads compete for the dubious honour of being the most dangerous in the world.