Monday, 04 June 2012, 09:33 GMT
Kurdistan's path from street traffic to hospital traffic


A visitor passes by a luxury car showcased at an international car show in Erbil, March 8, 2012./GLOBE PHOTO/Safin Hamid

The Kurdish globe
By Muhammed Tahir

"It is not a street, but a war frontier,"

Number of cars increase faster than the rate of population in Kurdistan Region, while the public transport network remains in poor shape

Besides creating huge noise, congestion and pollution on the streets, thousands of newly imported cars are parked in large warehouses around the city with thousands more on display on the back of large trucks heading towards the cities. The car market is so big that they increasingly dominate advertising sections of the media and newspapers.

"Own a car without a down payment on a three year installment," reads an advertisement in a local Kurdish newspaper.

On the Qazi Mohammed Street, one of the main ring roads in Erbil, hundreds of cars gather behind a traffic light and just as soon as the green light is on, horns blare loudly until the red light is back on.

Abdulla, a taxi driver with his hand ever-ready on the horn, says that if he doesn't use the horn, he is forced to endure long wait for the green light before he can pass the intersection.

"Come on, it is not a street, but a war frontier," said Abdulla, a taxi driver of 8 years, but who increasingly started to despise his job in the past two years.

According to the Traffic Police statistics, there are more than a million cars in the Kurdistan Region. Only last year, 135 thousand cars had made their way into the region, which is significantly higher than the previous year's rate of 128,897 cars.

The majority of those cars are private purchases and do not add to the public transportation network. In the region's capital city and other cities, there are no metro, train or tramway facilities, and the bus system is unreliable and lacks comfortable due to lack of a fixed schedule or facilities such as air-conditioning.

Those who use buses do not know the schedule and are not sure what time the bus reaches their station or what time they arrive at their destination. In the summer, passengers will get wet through excessive sweating by the time they are out of the bus, while in the winter they tremble from the cold for the whole journey.

Sabir Karim, a 25-year old man who uses the bus to get to work every day, says that he is tired of using the bus and his neck has started to ache due to standing for long periods in the corridors of the small and low minibuses.

"I need to buy a car, even if need to take a loan or pay installments to get rid of this torture and humiliation in the buses," Karim told the Globe.

Karim added that most of his friends and co-workers have their own cars and he feels ashamed that he is the only one without a car.

"I swear if the public transportation system was modern and organized like Europe and trams and metro were available to transport people on a fixed schedule, I would not take my car to work, even if I had one."

If the population of 4 million in the region sits in the 1 million cars they currently have, they would hardly feel uncomfortable. But if the public transportation system is not improved and private car imports continue at the same pace, there is no guarantee in 20 years whether private cars would leave any space for the people to relax outside their cars.

Statistics show that the import of cars is increasing at a rapid rate. Only in the first 4 months of 2012, more than 73,600 cars were imported into the Kurdistan Region, and if this continues at the same pace, by the end of 2012, the total number of cars imported during the year will reach approximately 221 thousand cars.

If we take the statistics of the past three years as a basis, on average a total of 161,627 cars are imported annually, while the population increase is only 115 thousand per year. This means that for each two new born children, three cars are imported.

If things continue in this manner, in 20 years 3,232,553 cars will come to Kurdistan, which means the total number of cars will be 4,475,000 by 2032.

Not only is the number of cars is increasing faster than that of the population, but the former also causes a reduction in the number of the latter through fatalities.

According to the statistics available at the Kurdistan Regional Government's (KRG) Ministry of Health, in 2011 alone some 1,983 people had been killed in traffic accidents.

Amongst all fatal diseases and other causes of death that it brings, traffic accidents account for 6% of all the deaths in the region.

International scientific research has proved that the smoke created by vehicles can cause lung cancer, asthma and other long-term and fatal diseases.

Health ministry statistics show that during 2011 alone, 3,588 cancer cases had been registered in Kurdistan, and increasing pollution caused by vehicles is one of the key factors.

The cancer rate of 2011 is significantly higher than that of 2010, where only 3,026 cases had been registered.

The 1 million cars in Kurdistan consume 5 million liters of fuel on average a day on average. Although not everyone is contributing to this pollution, everyone is inhaling this polluted air and is at risk of falling ill.

If this situation is not controlled, in 20 years, 22 million liters of fuel would be consumed, and pollution will be a more significant issue.

By 2032, Abdulla's problems would not be to get out of the long queues of traffic on the streets, but rather queuing in the traffic of thousands of patients waiting for treatment in hospital.