“It is DEADLY out there.”
The e-mail came from Dave Blanchard, an AAPG member who tragically lost his daughter three years ago when she tried to cross a street in Cairo, Egypt.
But this wasn’t a message from 2003. It was received last month.
Which is why ever since Deana Blanchard was hit by a bus on the Corniche, the infamous six-lane thoroughfare on the east bank of the Nile, her father has been trying to get the Egyptian government to build a pedestrian tunnel underneath it.
(The e-mail he sent refers to a fatality suffered by one of his Egyptian co-workers on the way from Alexandria a few weeks back, proving the situation is still dangerous.)
For Blanchard, who is with Devon Energy International in Cairo, this is a project that needs to be accomplished for a number of reasons -- some civic, some personal.
“My family and I decided, within the first couple of days after the accident, that our daughter’s death should not be in vain and that we had to do something to save lives along the Corniche,” he said.
“The loss of a child is an unfathomable event,” he continued, “and there is an instinctive need to make some sense out of the unimaginable fear and pain that lies silent in our inner most being.
“Without some way to rationalize our loss it would be difficult to wake in the morning and face the world.”
A Deadly Path
The bus, which struck his daughter at 10 p.m., was speeding along the Corniche without lights -- a typical occurrence in a city where crossing the street is to literally take your life in your own hands.
Imagine crossing an interstate highway on foot to get to a bus stop or to a restaurant; now imagine doing so without traffic lights or speed limits or, for that matter, drivers who stay on their designated side of the road.
Welcome to Cairo.
According to the Egyptian Ministry of Transportation, 6,000 people die each year as a result of road accidents in Egypt and 30,000 more annually are seriously injured or maimed in road accidents, adding untold suffering and incalculable economic loss.
And there’s this from the U.S. State Department:
“Driving in Egypt, a country with one of the highest incidences of road fatalities per miles driven in the world, is a challenge. Traffic rules appear to be routinely ignored by impatient drivers. Drivers should be prepared for unlit vehicles at night, few if any road markings, vehicles traveling at high rates of speed, vehicles traveling the wrong way on one-way streets, divided highways and connecting ramps, pedestrians constantly dodging in and out of traffic and a variety of animals ...
And then the warning ends:
“Pedestrians should also exercise extreme caution when traversing roadways, especially in high-volume/high-velocity streets like Cairo’s Corniche, which follows the east bank of the Nile River.”
He Has a Dream
What Blanchard envisions for the Corniche is a pedestrian tunnel access, costing approximately $250,000, at a particularly crowded congested intersection. It is where a passenger ferry brings workers across the Nile to the suburb of Maadi, a center of the oil business in Cairo and where the governmental regulatory body, the Egyptian General Petroleum Company, is located.
And near the spot where his daughter was killed.
“Cairo is a nightmare,” says John Dolson, AAPG vice president and a former Cairo resident who is personally involved in making Blanchard’s dream a reality.
“People driving on the wrong side of the road, with lights off at night, in over-crowded mini-vans,” he said. “I cringed every day of the eight-and-a-half years we lived there.”
Blanchard said that even before his daughter’s accident, he always carried a full EMS kit in his car that included neck braces, respirators and splints. He said the problem then, as now, is that “there are no working traffic lights along the Corniche, and so there are no safe pedestrian cross-walks and, as important, no natural breaks in the flow of traffic.”
Something, clearly, had to be done, but who would do it? The Egyptian government?
“Honestly, the best and most useful thing the Egyptian government can do is to speed up the permitting process,” Blanchard said, “and help with some minor eminent domain issues.”
A fledgling NGO (non-governmental organization) safe road society has been created as a result of his daughter’s death to assist with moving the process forward with the authorities.
Both Blanchard and Dolson believe that industry, along with volunteers, must play the major parts.
Blanchard also says that, at times, this hasn’t always been easy.
“As expats we sometimes tend to work overseas for a few years and then return home without being involved with local community initiatives,” he said. “Certainly in some countries it is perhaps not advisable to become too involved in local issues, but in general, we are the ground level ambassadors for our country and our society. I fully support our membership becoming involved in community projects.
“I know at Devon in the USA many, many employees and AAPG members are deeply involved with community initiatives,” he said, “and I think that commitment to the community needs to be expanded globally.”
And it seems to be working. To date, Apache, BP, BG, Devon, IPR, ENI, Coca Cola and GM, as well as local businesses and private individuals, have pledged funds. Dolson expects the project to be completed within two years.
As for the Egyptian authorities, Blanchard says they are helpful, excited and overwhelmed, and doing what he says governmental officials always do: “Follow bureaucratic procedures.”
“We certainly hope the pedestrian tunnel will be completed, not only for our own desire to make some sense of our tragedy, but to save lives,” Blanchard said.
He then talks about 2007, when his son, along with many who knew his daughter, will graduate from a school in Cairo.
“It is our fervent hope that the tunnel will be built by then so that the last of Deana’s high school friends will be able to cross the deadly Corniche road in safety.”