“Have you heard the news?” my student asked with a serious look. No, I answered, I haven’t had the time yet to read the news. “There was again a train accident. Children in a school bus, more than 50 dead!”
This accident happened on 17 November, a couple of days before Moursy brokered the cease fire between Hamas and Israel and then announced his constituency decree. The school bus crossed an unsecured railroad crossing and was caught by the approaching train. The barrier was up, the security guard was not at his place. Last Monday, another train accident happened, this time with conscripts from Upper Egypt and for sure, it won’t be the last one.
The terrible accident in Assyut back in November reflects Egypt’s state of affairs in many fields and this is why I want to write about it here.
The six to eight year old children were squeezed in an overcrowded bus on their way to an Islam school where they never arrived. There are families who lost all their children in this accident; in the town of Mandara there is no family that was not hit by this disaster since a typical Egyptian family is big…
The attendant’s hut is tiny and uncomfortable; there he receives information about coming trains in order close the barrier. He frequently leaves the narrow stuffy place and has a chat and a smoke with his colleagues nearby. Over there, he neither hears the important phone calls nor overlookds the rails; hence, the barrier remains open in spite of coming trains. Many very sad accidents repeatedly happened here. Again and again, the people have demonstrated and demanded the removal of this dangerous train crossing. Yet, in vain.
On 17 November they searched in the ruins of the squashed bus for the remains of their children: a scrap of fabric, an exercise book, a shoe, a drawing, a school bag. The ambulance arrived poorly equipped at the place of accident: they collected the remains of the children’s bodies and put them into garbage bags that had to be emptied beforehand. Those still alive were brought to the local hospital in Manfalout where not even the most urgent equipment was available. So the children were transported to the University hospital in Assyut. But there as well, the hospital staff was unable to cope with the situation and could hardly administer first aid due to the lack of dressing and medications. A young doctor once told me how these public hospitals are managed: young graduates have to practise there for 300 pounds without supervision or help of senior doctors. Those are up to something else: they work in private clinics because the salary is better. Yet, I’ll write about this another time.
Only hours later did the police arrive at the place of accident. As always, it was promised that there would be an investigation and the violators be punished. As always, ministers promised to eradicate this unacceptable situation. As always, Moursy (sorry, I just can’t call him “President”) promised to indemnify the troubled families. Following last week’s accident, it was even promised to renovate 900 railway crossings all over Egypt. Immediately!
Three days later, almost another train accident happened in Mandara, when a train passed the open railway crossing… I’m sure that the situation remains unchanged.
Some culprits have been found. Negligence of the railway authority, no maintenance or renewal of the rails for more than 10 years, 15 rail workers were brought to court. I doubt that they are the real culprits.
By chance I’ve read today in “Egypt Independent“ that only a quarter of the allocated budget of USD 270 Mio. in 2009 and USD 330 Mio. In 2011 was used for railway maintenance. According to the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights, the bigger share was squandered by members of the government. [sic!]
330‘000‘000 USD Dollars is a pretty penny. The families that lost a child in this horrible accident were initially offered 1’000 pounds (around 150 USD) as indemnity and it was later increased to 50’000 pounds. I dare doubt that any of them will ever see a penny. They can’t revive their children and they can’t turn their back on this scruffy state with this little money.
Negligence, failure, wealth grab = corruption. This is Egypt in every field: health, infrastructure, education, environment and so on. Egypt is a wealthy country. Yet only few get their share.
And the Western governments continue to send their money…