The high rate of accidents on the main route into the Ethiopian city of Hawassa was described in December 2009 as ‘a real catastrophe’ by the local road transport authority. This road, carrying traffic from the city of Mojo south of the capital Addis Ababa to the main city in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Regional State (SNNPRS), is one of the three major routes which account for a staggering 90 per cent of the accidents in the whole of Ethiopia, in which 10,000 people are killed or injured every year.
There are no official figures for the number of donkeys and other animals killed or injured in these accidents, but the numbers are high. Donkey carts are a common sight on these roads – unfortunately, all too often they are not seen by car and lorry drivers until it’s too late. Many of them travel at night, without lights or reflectors. While the owners of horse-drawn carts have to pay a yearly fee to be licensed by the Municipality, and display a number plate, donkey carts don’t need licences. This makes it hard to keep track of the carts and owners, and enforce the rule that no drivers should be under 16 years of age.
Our team in Hawassa were already concerned about the treatment of these cart donkeys. Some drivers were beating them, forcing them to pull overloaded carts, and using poor harness which causes wounds and sores. This seemed a good opportunity to work with cart owners, drivers, and the road transport authority, to reduce the accident rate and also improve the welfare of the donkeys.
Several initiatives have been taking place as a result. This year the team have been working with the training and enforcement unit of the local road transport authority to find ways of discouraging irresponsible driving as well as the ill-treatment of donkeys. While this authority does not licence vehicles, it is responsible for controlling all road users including pedestrians, and ensuring that all vehicles are roadworthy. Our team were able to advise on a reasonable code of conduct for the donkey cart drivers, enabling the traffic police who enforce road safety laws to take action. Although they cannot penalise drivers for donkey welfare ‘offences’ which do not compromise road safety, they now treat overloading and beating as safety offences; an overloaded cart may be less easy to control, and beating a donkey may cause it to veer into traffic.
To make the carts more visible at night, the Hawassa team also designed and produced reflective plates carrying The Donkey Sanctuary logo. There were some initial problems with distribution and also how to affix the plates to the carts, but by June 2010, sixty-five donkey carts had been fitted with a set of these reflectors and the owners had also been trained in how to load carts properly, how to balance the load better, and how to prevent harness wounds.
To support the work we were doing, the road transport authority also introduced a trial system of ID cards and badges for donkey cart drivers. This was partly designed to tackle the problem of irresponsible under-age drivers – those who were under 16 would not be eligible to register under this system. Meanwhile the team kept trying to persuade the Municipality to extend its vehicle licence system to donkey carts, and this campaign is continuing.
In May 2010, on World Traffic Day, the Zonal Transport and Road Authority awarded a certificate of appreciation to the project team in Hawassa for all the work they have done to improve road safety. The presentation attracted national and local media coverage, and led to a further two hour broadcast on regional radio about the Donkey Sanctuary’s work in Ethiopia.