Traffic police are the missing link for Thai road safety

Following the fatal accident in Chiang Mai that killed three cyclists and injured two others, demands for stiffer punishments have escalated, especially given the likely influence of alcohol.

One idea is bicycle licenses, a proposal which led to a group of bicyclists meeting Assistant Police Chief Prawut Thawornsiri on May 15 to submit objections.

Article - The NationLicensing bicycle riders is only an opportunity for additional paperwork and graft. Pedestrians and cyclists should have first priority on roads. Licensing borders on the preposterous, as research worldwide has shown it is a barrier to more cycling, which the government in theory supports.

The real problem is Thai roads are very nearly the most dangerous in the world. This year’s first-quarter data for traffic accidents notes the deaths of 3,834 Thais, while more than 316,000 have sustained some form of injury, at great cost to the healthcare system and economy.

Globally, Thailand’s rate of road deaths is second only to Namibia – one of the least densely populated countries – in a study of 193 countries by the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute. This study revealed a disturbing 44 deaths per 100,000 of population in Thailand, with 45 in Namibia.

It is no surprise that pedestrians, cyclists and motorcycle riders are the most vulnerable to road accidents. For instance, the Global Status Report on Road Safety 2013 by the World Health Organization (WHO) found 74% of total deaths were users of motorized 2- or 3-wheelers, 13% were drivers of 4-wheeled vehicles, then 8% were pedestrians, while cyclists accounted for 3%.

The maximum speed limits on urban roads are 60 or 80km/h. However, Thailand achieved a mere 30percent for effective implementation of national speed limits in the WHO study.

Thailand also has a national motorcycle helmet law. Studies have shown a good-quality helmet can reduce the risk of death on the road by 40%. However, most Thai motorcyclists only wear helmets to avoid traffic police fines. The WHO study suggests only 53% of riders and 19% of motorcycle passengers actually obey this law in Thailand.

Moreover, drink-driving was the main reason for the 3,373 accidents during this year’s Songkran week. Enforcement of drink-driving laws reduces the road accident rate dramatically. Thai law sets a 0.05 g/dl blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit for drivers. However, the WHO study rates the Thai enforcement level of this limit at 50%, signifying much more is required on both the part of the police and of drivers.Bangkok Traffic

Thailand can learn from Nepal – a country technically behind Thailand in terms of development. Similar to Thailand, the Himalayan kingdom had rules on drink driving which were rarely enforced until December 2011. Then, the country adopted one of the strictest drink driving rules in the world – a zero tolerance policy, setting the BAC to zero.

As soon as night falls, the night shift of Nepalese traffic police is deployed to enforce the law, armed with breathalyzers. Unlike in Thailand, where “crackdowns” may be over in one night, in Kathmandu it is almost impossible to escape the net of breath checks, including on weekends, holidays, and even during the day.

If any driver is caught consuming even a mouthful of alcohol, that person is fined the equivalent of 335 baht. In addition, what deters re-offending the most is a one-hour-long mandatory lecture on the dangers of drink driving and the long queues to pay the fine before receiving the seized license the next day.

It took weeks for Nepalese party-goers to adjust to this new rule. In addition, the enforcement seriously hampered the business of restaurants and bars. There were organized protests, including the temporary closure of businesses, but in the face of a determined stand by the Nepalese government and police force, these petered out. Crucially, the authorities were aware that an increased likelihood of punishment would, in time, deter criminal activity, as predicted by rational action theory, which states that human beings are more likely to obey the law if the chance of punishment is higher.

Furthermore, the positive benefits of the campaign clearly outweigh the negative. The number of accidents caused by drink driving declined sharply by more than 71percent from 2012 to 2013. In addition, in this country of 27 million, by the end of February 2015, the traffic police had penalized 172,557 offenders and amassed over 50 million baht – all mainly from one city, Kathmandu – since the inception of the campaign.

The campaign also had greater social benefits. Housewives and parents were happy because their loved ones went home sober. Furthermore, the rates of other crimes like gang fights, theft, extortion and rape significantly declined. In addition, the policy gave birth to new business opportunities, mainly for taxi drivers.

What is seemingly lacking among Thai traffic police is not an awareness of these issues but strong commitment and motivation to implement a sustained policy. The country needs leadership that is willing and able to cope with the significant resistance which will arise from restaurant owners and habitual drinkers. Courage and motivation are necessary within the police system in order to go beyond punishing the poorer motorcyclists and to begin curbing the reckless drinking of those higher in the social ladder who drive cars, including luxury vehicles.

Nepal took into account the police and public mentality before starting the campaign. The government backed the police and created an “encouragement allowance” where they are entitled to keep one-sixth of the revenue. The allowance resulted in a decline in bribery as the traffic police could easily earn extra legal money by punishing more drivers. This was key to the campaign’s success, which also included celebrity endorsements, television programmes, and social media.

To conclude, instead of licensing cyclists, the government should be making the roads safe for them. Introducing cycling routes in touristic destinations, making parking spaces for bicycles, clearing the footpaths and constructing new cycle lanes should be priorities. But, the Royal Thai Police needs to also do its job and reduce the number of killers on the roads.

This special article to THE NATION was written by JOHN DRAPER and DIPENDRA KC. It appeared in the print edition of the newspaper on May 28, 2015.

John Draper is project officer for the Isan Culture Maintenance and Revitalisation Programme at Khon Kaen University. Dipendra KC is co-founder of a youth-led NGO in Nepal and a rural development management MA student at Khon Kaen University. Twitter: @kcdipendra.

Quake spurs youth cyber relief work

The Bangkok Post

The recent 7.3-magnitude aftershock which followed the earlier 7.8-magnitude earthquake that devastated Nepal has again drawn global attention. The death toll has already surpassed 8,100. Still, it is hard to imagine the scale of devastation had the earthquakes occurred 15 years ago. Several thousand more people would have died, and much of the world would still be unaware of the catastrophe.

But, cellular technology towers withstood the quake while the buildings around them crumbled. Before the mainstream media reports came out, news from individual sources had quickly penetrated social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Despite limited technological capacity, what is outstanding is how constructively it has been used during the present disaster, despite only a quarter of the population having access to the internet and 90% of them using only a 2G connection.

The media organisations which rushed to Kathmandu and its vicinity in the aftermath of the disaster are sharing the stories that they should be covering — the grim reality on the ground. However, the international media is also portraying Nepal as if everything has ended. This is doom mongering, as the quake has in fact triggered many positive instances of social behaviour.

Social media has been greatly instrumental in the relief operations taking place in the country. In particular, Nepalese youth are showing an unprecedented level of commitment. The international media to some extent has failed to share these stories of initiatives led by the younger generation.

In fact, this strata of the population was one of the first to take part in rescue efforts. Nepalese youth are making optimum use of internet technology to aid the relief work. Their Facebook walls demonstrate the amazing work that they are doing despite limited resources and skills.

In the aftermath of the disaster, technology giants such as Skype facilitated youth endeavours by announcing free calls to and from Nepal. Fortunately, those young people with a smartphone or laptop connected to the internet, reached out to temporary refugee camps, and began to help families to connect to their relatives.

In the face of calamity, people have teamed up and initiated online help desks to connect those who are far away with their family members at home. It is usually arduous to negotiate congested international communications networks in such a distressing situation. However, all you now need to do to reach your friends is to send these teams a message on Facebook or via Twitter. They then often find your family within a few minutes.

Furthermore, within hours of each of the two big tremors, Facebook introduced the safety check feature, where people could mark friends on as “Safe”. People hurried to mark their friends safe in order to reassure acquaintances at home and abroad.

In another instance, young people teamed up to use Google’s Person Finder tool to fill in the information of missing people, and those with information about someone started feeding their information into the system.

Hundreds of young people have gathered and are using their social media skills to discover where the relief is needed most, and then they pledge donations like tarpaulins, rice, or medicine. The relief material is then transported to the most hard-hit areas by volunteers, who also establish local communications and identify local youths who can serve as channels for the relief work.

The creative uses of social media have also led young people to report data regarding physical and human losses as well as to assess the availability of temporary camps and relief supplies. Youth-driven teams are crowdsourcing the information. Now, anyone with a basic cell phone can report physical damage or loss of life as well as seek help.

As the nation receives more aid from abroad, both in terms of resources and personnel, there are admittedly increased chances of financial misconduct, and the effectiveness of some of the aid work may be questioned. To address these concerns and facilitate effective aid delivery, youth groups and relief organisations are implementing a social audit of the rescue, relief and reconstruction efforts in order to make the post-disaster efforts more reliable, accountable and effective.

There is much to be learned from these independent voluntary initiatives in terms of disaster preparedness. There is a need for social immunisation by introducing strict guidelines for construction companies, as well as earthquake-preparedness classes, based on the experience of nations like Thailand.

Governments in areas of the globe vulnerable to earthquakes should have strong post-disaster relief mechanisms ready, and the youth should be equipped with basic first-aid training. Furthermore, the technology to act transparently, and democratically should be embedded in each and every step that we as societies decide to take. This use of technology and the mobilisation of youth have the potential to create resilience and keep hope alive even in adverse circumstances.

The article originally appeared in the Opinion section of The Bangkok Post on May 19, 2015.

Nepal must not fall prey to donation scams

Survivors wait as a relief helicopter lands at their remote mountain village of Gumda, near the epicenter of last month’s massive earthquake in the Gorkha District of Nepal. AP

The catastrophic earthquake of 7.9 magnitude and the powerful aftershocks that hit Nepal last Saturday and Sunday took the lives of more than 6,000 people — and the death toll continues to rise. The devastation that affected a quarter of the Himalayan nation’s population has caused unprecedented loss of life, physical property and heritage sites.

Since the disaster, foreign governments and international aid agencies have been scrambling to help those in distress. The suffering has drawn the attention of the whole world and the results can be witnessed in that the only airport connecting the country with the rest of the world is now congested with relief materials and rescue aircraft.

Foreign aid has been trickling in to Nepal in a largely instinctive manner. The total commitment of foreign aid has already crossed US$50 million (1.6 billion baht). Aid has been flown in from all over the world. The United Nations has allocated US$15 million from its emergency fund, and the Asian Development Bank also announced an initial release of US$3 million. In addition, the US government has announced US$9 million, making a total of US$10 million including US Aid. Among other donor nations are the United Kingdom with US$7.6 million, Australia with US$3.9 million, China with US$3.3 million, Thailand with US$3.13 million (excluding the contributions from the Thai Royal Family), the European Union with US$3 million and Bhutan with $1 million.

Furthermore, spontaneous fundraising events and organisations willing to support the ailing nation have emerged around the world. Thailand is no exception. Fundraising campaigns have swept the entire Thai nation. The initiatives range from individuals to organisational campaigns. Almost all the leading media outlets as well as humanitarian organisations have set up relief funds and have appealed to the general public to contribute.

Undoubtedly the intentions of the majority of relief agencies, governments and kind donors are good. Nonetheless, the presence of criminals trying to take advantage of the anguish cannot be denied. In a scenario like this, the philanthropist has a very crucial role to play to ensure the effectiveness of funds through a proper channel.

It is the donor’s responsibility to make sure that hard-earned money does not fall into scoundrels’ hands. One way to avoid the criminal element is to contribute to trusted relief funds like the funds set up by government or international humanitarian agencies like Thai Unicef.

We have witnessed several online donation drives going viral on the internet over the last week including scams. One piece of caution in bequeathing to these organisations is to ensure that they are registered charities and that the donations they receive are tax exempted. Otherwise, not every baht of your contribution might reach the people that need it.

It needs to be understood that the real job of the donors starts when they make the decision to donate part of their income to support those in need. Deciding to donate means portraying love for the cause. If the donor’s love for the cause is genuine, it should go beyond the donation itself and the donor should check whether or not the donation is reaching the hands of the destitute.

I have no intention of discouraging the kind-hearted donor. Nonetheless, in a humanitarian disaster of this magnitude, donors must be mindful of the fact that contributions might not reach the rightful beneficiaries.

These concerns are founded on past experience from the Caribbean nation of Haiti. In 2010, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck the country, causing the deaths of an estimated 230,000 people. In the aftermath, multilateral and bilateral agencies poured in billions of dollars in relief and recovery efforts to alleviate the pain of the country. Five years down the line, some 85,000 people still reside in awful conditions in crude displacement camps leaving major questions about how the aid money was channeled and utilised.

In a quest to answer this question, American author Jonathan M Katz in his book The Big Truck That Went By; How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster implicates mismatched and mismanaged interests among a complex array of stakeholders: foreign governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), business groups and public personas. He blames the vested interests of each actor as contributing to the ineffectiveness of aid and blames them for the stalled aid delivery.

Crucially for Thai donors, Katz also sees a problem in the “noble and narrow mandate” of the private donations which were larger than the foreign aid. The private donations stressed humanitarian aid but not development assistance, causing projects to repair infrastructure and restore normality to become victims of what Katz calls “diminishing returns”.

It is the nature of the news and of social media to quickly flitter from one story to the next. Therefore, private donors, foreign governments, aid agencies, NGOs and business groups need to be mindful of what we have learnt from Haiti and undertake not to repeat this failure of commitment anywhere in the world.

Nepal is in dire need of resources to restore normal modes of human existence. The Nepalese government and the country will not be able to bear the cost of recovery alone. This beautiful Himalayan kingdom does not just need short-term support but requires a long-term partnership to heal the lives and restore the physical property – chiefly the 600,000 homes of the poor as well as the lost cultural heritage such as ancient temples.

Development in the aftermath of disaster is not an easy task. The UN appeal itself calls for a total of US$450 million, and Nepali government sources estimate US$2 billion will be required to rebuild the country. However, if the stakeholders work closely and forego vested interests, the task, while difficult, will not be unnecessarily complex. We have seen Asian giants like Japan and Thailand recover from disasters and Nepal and its people will, after a sustained period of hardship and convalescence, no doubt be revitalised.

The article originally appeared in the Opinion section of The Bangkok Post on May 04, 2015.

Hear us too

In the recent Constituent Assembly (CA) election, eight percent youth were elected as CA members under the First Past the Post (FPTP) System.
The percentage of youth candidates in this election was even more impressive: 41 percent of total candidates were below the age of 40. 
There were many new parties which fielded new candidates. However, the number of young candidates nominated by major political parties was not so exciting. If we are to refer to the National Youth Policy, it defines “youth” as those aged 16-40.
Zakaria Zainal
This age group accounts for 42 percent of the population, but constitutes only eight percent of FPTP winners in the CA. The figures are not going to get better anytime soon, if recent activities of political parties are anything to go by. This means that the agendas and voices of young people are likely to go unheard in the new CA.
The unhealthy tussle in the major parties to finalize their PR candidates does not indicate their seriousness about youth representation. The PR list CPN-UML submitted to Election Commission, for example, sidelined prominent young faces like Ramkumari Jhankri who was at the forefront of second Jana Andolan and has since been consistently advocating for youth friendly policies. 
Other parties don’t seem very different. This practice will continue as long as our parties continue to be ruled by a few dictatorial heads. 
Most of our political parties are undemocratic and hierarchical. 
Lack of intraparty democracy is one of the major reasons. Be it student union, trade union or any other sister organization of mainstream political parties, they all lack intra-organizational democracy. These unions are as fragmented as their mother parties. As a result, they are not strong enough to challenge malpractices in the mother party.
Tokenism trumps meritocracy in most parties, while making political appointments or selecting candidates for CA election. Political leaders look for the people who buy into their school of thought and who belong to their faction. Unfortunately, the youth fall behind when they fail to follow these unwritten rules.
The youth are in no way free of blame. When they are at the forefront of political movements, they dare to challenge their leaders. But when the movements end, they forget their power and surrender before the same leaders. They have enough courage to challenge the autocratic system of the country, but are afraid to challenge a similar situation within their parties. They can come together to bargain when fuel price is hiked, but not to ask for respect for their opinion in their parties.
One of the reasons youth are being sidelined is because the interest groups working on youth are not active. When it comes to the representation of female and marginalized communities, several interest groups working for the benefit of these sections put pressure on the parties for meaningful representation. This is not the case with our youth. Representation of female and marginalized groups is mandated by law. This has forced political parties to make sure they are well represented, which, again, is not the case for the youth.
The time has come for the youth to be considered partners of today, not only of the future. It doesn’t look like the representation of youth will increase in this CA. Despite the lack of numerical strength, the aspirations and issues of youth shouldn’t be ignored in this CA. For this, present CA members should be sensitized about the issues, challenges and aspirations of youth. This in turn will call for youth wings of political parties and non-political youth organizations teaming up to serve as watchdogs.
Time will test both political and non-political youth organizations. The need of the hour is the implementation of the dormant National Youth Policy (NYP). One of the first tasks of youth organizations is to build pressure on elected representatives to do so. 
Representation of youth in CA is necessary to ensure that the aspirations of younger generation are addressed. The youth are the best persons to raise their own issues. Furthermore, the future of the nation belongs to the youth, and this is a moment when the future of the nation is being written. To ensure youth ownership of these changes, it is necessary to make them a part of the system.
Creating a special working group on youth within the CA can be a viable way to compensate for their poor numerical representation in CA. The working group should be assigned with bringing up the agendas concerning youth which shouldn’t be missed in the constitution. Furthermore, both political and non-political youth organizations should assist the committee.
(This article was published on Republica op-ed on December 31, 2013)

YUWA let’s Vote – Television Show

On Novmber 2, 2013, I was invited to talk on a TV Show in News 24 Television. The issue of the program was the necessity for young people to vote. Two other guests, Santosh Acharya from Youth Initiative and Pradeep Bashyal from Nepal Magazine were with me.

Below are some clips from the 1.5 hour long program. The program also highlighted the statistics that was worked by me.

Out with Old

Despite the uncertainty surrounding Free Students Union (FSU) elections, political parties are going all out to strengthen their position ahead of the upcoming student election. Extravagant promotional materials inside college premises hint of a celebratory mood. But rumors of fake admissions and extravagance in campaigning definitely raise a big question about the source of money that is being pumped into these elections. The FSU election is supposed to elect a body that addresses the concerns of college-going students. However, the effectiveness of the FSUs is highly questionable. Over the years, political agendas have been put on the frontline rather than academic agendas. The FSUs have become a metastasizing tumor.
Over last few weeks, FSUs have been vehemently criticized in the media, but FSUs have turned deaf ear to the comments and suggestions coming their way. Ideologically blindfolded leaders see nothing except what serves their narrow interests. Hence they openly flout election guidelines they themselves created. Apart from FSUs, the silence of academic and administrative leaders of Tribhuvan University and students is also to be blamed for this unruliness. 

Time has come we started to question the rationale behind political FSUs and to look for an alternative to FSUs, which routinely fail to raise academic and other issues faced by students. Rather than invest millions for election of student body, it would be wise to invest in welfare of students. But this can happen only when university authorities and students partner for promotion of quality education rather than petty politics.
The alternative is a new system for formation of FSUs in colleges. The new system of students union should incorporate the concept of clubs and other sub-divisions under the leadership and supervision of the union. Elections should start in the classroom. This can be in the form of electing class representatives (CRs) or class captain every year. To make election inclusive, one male and one female can be elected from a class for representation in the student’s union where all CRs meet. The executive team can be elected from among them. For instance, if a college has 15 different classrooms, there will be 30 elected CRs in the council and the executive team can be elected from among them. The size of the executive team can be need-based. 


Republica

Furthermore, multiple student clubs addressing the varied interests of students must exist in colleges under the supervision and leadership of the union. The clubs should have a democratic system where members of a particular club are free to choose their desired leadership. Students should be free to open a new club under student union after getting enough members and after making a strong case that their need is not being met by existing clubs.

The student’s union should act as an umbrella body that guides and governs the plans and activities of all other clubs in the college. The student’s union thus formed can sit with college administration with plans of the union and clubs and try to fit the activities in the academic calendar. This way, student’s union will essentially be a student’s body. Exams, results and other academic activities start happening according to the calendar and everybody benefits.

There should be clear demarcation of roles and responsibilities of student union and college administration. Student union should not be provided the right to hamper academic programs and college administration should not be allowed to meddle in the activities of students.
This model has multiple advantages for universities, students and the nation as a whole. The academic calendar comes back on track. Large number of students will directly benefit as several kinds of activities will occur at the college and they can participate in the one they feel meets their interest.

Furthermore, a large chunk of students get the opportunity to practice leadership. They can organize programs under different clubs or they can take charge of any club or student union itself. The model further helps in actualization of student’s issues as they can directly be carried to the student’s union by CRs.
The model is already in place at few private colleges of Kathmandu and is serving pretty well. The KCM Student Council is a case in point. The council started in 2003 and is independent from college management and political parties, yet its annual financial transactions exceed Rs 1,500,000, which is essentially student earned money for student council. Ultimately, the amount is invested in various student activities.
This is a viable alternative to the existing FSU system. As time passes, traditional institutions need to be reviewed and updated. If the FSUs are not ready to mend their ways, students and the universities should be ready to adopt the new model.
Republica

MOOCs for global audiences

The Year 2012 was the year of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Several leading platforms for learning, including Coursera, Udacity and EdX Online launched their services during February to April 2013. With these three startups in the technology market, education has somehow been “democratized.” The course content that was available to a handful of people is now available to the global audience.

Today, Coursera has a user base of more than 2.8 million and offers 313 courses from 62 different universities from around the globe while Udacity offers 22 courses in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and EdX offers 32 different courses from universities like Harvard and MIT. Also, EdX on its blog on March 3, 2013 announced that its system will be available open source to ease the usage of technology for education from June 1, 2013. 

These MOOCs can be very beneficial to all those who seek to learn in the true sense. A few courses do offer the certificate of completion; however, most of the courses don’t provide the credentials. The contents that are delivered through these sites are outstanding and the discussion forums and quizzes aid the learning process. In a normal course, students from more than 150 countries sign up and express their opinions over the forums, and these virtual study groups give a unique sense of learning and expand the horizon of the applicability of the contents.

Over the last 11 months, universities in the US have been heavily debating on the new trend of education. At one end of the world, technology is growing rapidly and the debate is on whether the courses should be open and free while, unfortunately, guess papers and guidebooks are all sold out in the market as exams approach.
There are countless points which could be discussed and scrutinized to see how outdated a teaching/learning mechanism we have. Even when we compare the two leading universities of the country, Tribhuvan University (TU) and Kathmandu University (KU), there is huge gap between their teaching and learning methodologies.
All universities, professors and students must feel the urgency of sensing the global educational trends. Everybody cannot afford Ivy Leagues but they can afford to sit in front of a computer and taste the way teaching/learning is done.

However, initiatives from universities alone are not capable enough for the change that we want to see. Students should also, at least, try the subjects of their interest. Since these courses are generally shorter in length, students can give it a try.

There are also constraints to this new option. With only 19% of Nepal’s population having access to Internet, language and with other barriers, it might seem difficult to attend the virtual classrooms. However, a few measures can be taken to give this new taste not only to students, colleges or universities but to all those who opt for broadening their horizon.

The government’s Youth Information Centers (YIC) and Information Centers at the VDC level could also be used as strategic learning centers for many young people. This could foster the rural learners’ accessibility to the world-class education. Furthermore, different learning centers and libraries established by several organizations in the country can be established as strategic learning centers and attract students to use their resources to learn.

Colleges and universities can arrange a learning environment for their students in their respective colleges and universities. This will provide platforms to students who don’t regularly access computer and Internet. In addition, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can also be encouraged to provide access to these learning portals at subsidized rates.

It’s never too late to start. It has not even been a year but these MOOCs are booming. You can start your own learning experience at www.coursera.org, www.udacity.com or www.edx.org today.

Republica