The minibus was doing over 200 kilometres an hour on the way to Basra when the driver lost control, rolling the bus on the highway. “And the passengers ended up either in the hospital or in a refrigerator,” says Haider Kathem, 25, one of the 11 people onboard at the time.
Kathem was one of the lucky ones, suffering several fractures and needing several operations; despite their best efforts he is still in a wheelchair today, months after the April accident.
“Doctors told me I would need treatment for more than a year before I am able to walk properly again,” says the former restaurant worker whose wife and three children are now being supported by his family.
Unfortunately Kathem's is an increasingly common tale in Dhi Qar. The local traffic police say they've recorded more than 306 accidents during 2015, that resulted in injuries and deaths.
“There is no end in sight to these accidents,” the head of the Department of Traffic, Alaa Abdel Odeh, told NIQASH. “Our records show that 115 people died in traffic accidents in 2015 and that most of the accidents were caused by head-on collisions.”
Fatal accidents happen mostly on external roads linking the provinces and Odeh attributed the rise in numbers to higher speeds on the open roads, lack of attention by drivers and careless overtaking.
“We installed four cameras on the roads going out of the province to monitor those who speed,” Odeh continued. “But drivers don't follow the rules, they don't obey signage and they don't put on their safety belts.”
However local drivers believe that the increase in car crashes is being caused by the terrible state of the roads here. “It is because the roads are neglected,” says Muslim Ahmad, 40, a taxi driver who's been ferrying passengers along the Nasiriyah-Baghdad road for years. “The Nasiriyah to Baghdad road isn't well paved and it's full of potholes as well as the unfinished roading work that was started years ago. There is no proper signage either. All of this makes the road very dangerous because once drivers get out of the city they start speeding.”
Meanwhile the mayor of the subdistrict of Al Fajr, north of Nasiriyah, believes that the reason his area has seen the most traffic accidents over the past year is due to the fact that there is only one road going in and out of the area. “For reasons known only to themselves, the authorities have told us they cannot contract anyone to build another road here,” Zuhair Kamel told NIQASH. “And we haven't been able to resolve this issue either. So it is the local people who are paying a high price.”
Other locals point out that the roads here are also a popular route for heavy vehicles and trucks loaded with goods from Basra's ports, heading north.
The delay in doing anything about Dhi Qar's damaged roads is due to the current economic crisis, says Kathem al-Sahlani, who heads the Department of Roading in the province. “The lack of any maintenance work over the past years has made the roads here very dangerous,” he concedes. “And the highway has also been damaged in military operations in the past.”
The local government says it can't do anything about the damaged roads either. The rehabilitation and maintenance of roads falls within the scope of the work done by Baghdad's Ministry of Construction, says Nima al-Zamili, a member of the provincial council. “But the Ministry is clearly reluctant to do anything. So the provincial council is hamstrung.”
It seems to be something of a circular argument with each body that might potentially be able to do something about Dhi Qar's roads passing the buck to another, who passes it right back again. All of this is something that one local woman who wished to be known only as Rabab doesn’t care much about.
“My husband and three children were on the way to spend their holidays with an uncle in Baghdad,” she says. “On the way there, a driver lost control of his truck and hit our smaller car. When I said goodbye to my family that day, I didn't realise it was going to be the last time I ever saw them. Now I only have their pictures,” she says tearfully.