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Time for Action: United Nations Decade of Action for Road Safety

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09 May 2011, Dhaka. The United Nations is launching the “Decade of Action for Road Safety” on 11 May 2011 with the slogan – “Time for Action”. If we consider the scale of the road injury epidemic facing Bangladesh, it indeed is the time for action.

In Bangladesh road accidents kill over 20,000 people annually of which 52% are pedestrians. Child fatality is over 3400 per year. The road accidents cost the country  5000 crores, roughly 1.5% of the GDP. The number of people killed on the roads is predicted to rise by at least 80% over the next 20 years.

Globally road traffic accidents kill more than 3000 people including 1000 children and young people every day. Annually, 1.3 million are killed and at least 50 million are injured. More than 85% of these casualties and 96% of child deaths occur in low and middle-income countries.

Apart from devastating human consequences, road traffic injuries are holding back progress in economic growth, poverty reduction, healthcare and education. Road safety is considered as a transport issue in Bangladesh. The success of organisations responsible for is measured in KM of road constructed. It does not put people first. Road safety merits consideration as a development issue, a poverty issue, a public health issue and and Education issue: 

Development Issue
Road accidents cost Bangladesh 1-3 percent of GDP like many of the world’s poorest countries. It acts as barrier to economic growth. The case for action to reduce road accident becomes simple through a cost benefit analysis. Every 100 taka invested in road safety can save as much as 2000 taka in lost earnings, reduced productivity and health costs. Instead of asking whether we can afford to invest in road safety, our policy makers might ask themselves whether they can afford not to. If road safety is addressed, 1 – 3 percent of GDP now lost due to road accidents will be added to it for economic development.  

Poverty Issue – a killer of the poor
Every one is at risk of falling victim  to road accidents. Poverty however, increases the risk – it diminishes the capacity of victims to cope with the consequences. Poor people are more likely to be vulnerable road users. Labourers walking to work by the side of roads, small farmers, women carrying goods to market and of course the children in slums figure prominently in the roll call of victims. They travel also by bicycle or by public transport. In Bangladesh public transports are major source of road accidents. Road traffic injury can dramatically reduce household income. Many are driven into poverty by the cost of prolonged medical care and rehabilitation. And many more are denied access to care because they cannot afford costs. When a breadwinner dies, families lose the income they need to maintain nutrition, purchase essential medicines or meet the cost of keeping children in school.

Public Health Issue
International community is taking commendable actions to eliminate diseases such as TB and Malaria. Road injuries are the cause of a similar share of mortality and yet receive a far lower priority in terms of resource allocation or recognition as a public health issue. Of the patients admitted in hospitals in Bangladesh from non-communicable diseases, 25% are victims of road traffic injuries.

Education Issue
Every year, around 3400 children aged 5-14 in Bangladesh lose their right to education for a single tragic reason that they are killed on the roads often while on journey to and from school. Many see their prospects for education diminished by injury and disability. For children who are left disabled, access to school can become a major burden. The loss of parents in road accident can leave children with long-term psychological problems. In Bangladesh, road traffic accidents are the single biggest cause of death by injury among fathers and the second biggest cause of death by injury of mothers.

Road Safety – Current Policy and Approach
Different countries have been taking actions to improve road safety. These actions have not been able to improve road safety, particularly in developing countries. A switch of policy and approach has been felt urgently necessary. A few new approach and policy directions under way are as below:

ISO 39001
ISO plays an important role by promoting adoption of harmonised standards. The future ISO 39001 offers exciting potential to support the achievement of improved global road safety outcomes over the coming decade and beyond. The World Bank group and its partners are participating in the development of ISO 39001.
ISO 39001 concerns the management of safety standards of countries, cities, corporations and community entities. The emphasis is given to the systematic management of road safety through this. The core elements of a road safety management system are the same for any entity and relate to its goal and the organisational functions and measures delivered to achieve this goal. It is a welcoming initiative and looks forward to its speedy and effective implementation.

Safe System Approach
The safe system approach would require the road to be designed to expect and accommodate human error, recognising that prevention efforts notwithstanding, road users remain fallible and crashes will occur. The approach exploits synergies between measures that address infrastructure, vehicles and drivers when they are designed in concert. It shapes interventions to meet long term goals, rather than on incremental improvement on traditional interventions.
The basic strategy of a safe system approach is to ensure that in the event of crash, the impact energies remain below the threshold likely to produce either death or serious injury.

International Road Assessment Program is a not for profit organisation dedicated to saving lives through working in partnership with government and non-government organisations across the world. Through iRAP the roads are provided with Star Ratings through the assessment basing on the risk factors. They provide a simple and objective measure of the level of safety that is built in to the roads for car occupants, motorcyclists and pedestrians. Five star roads (green) are the safest, whereas one star roads (black) are the least safe.

Governance of Road Safety Enforcement
The enforcement of traffic laws and vehicle regulation can make an enormous difference. The positive results of strict law enforcement make it one of the most cost effective public health investments in developing countries like Bangladesh. The World Bank Global Road Safety Facility is to develop a police enforcement model designed to improve the governance of road safety enforcement in low and middle income countries.
The aim is to target Police Chiefs in low and middle income country police agencies through a global police network. The objective is to engage, strengthen and support police leadership in these countries to become sponsors of road policing and related road safety within their agencies and jurisdiction. Without this sponsorship of road policing at the highest level of police command structure, effective road safety enforcement will simply not occur.

United Nations Call for a Decade of Actions for Road Safety 2010-2020
The United Nations first ever global ministerial conference hosted in Moscow on 19-20 November 2009 was attended by a delegation headed by the Minister for Communication of Bangladesh.  
The UN General Assembly resolution 64/255 of March 2010 proclaimed 2011–2020 the Decade of Action for road safety, with a global goal of stabilising and then reducing the forecasted level of global road fatalities by increasing activities conducted at national, regional and global levels. The resolution calls upon Member States to implement road safety activities, particularly described in “ FIVE PILLARS ” comprising road safety management, road infrastructure, vehicle safety, road user behaviour, road safety education and the post-crash response.

A Global Plan has been prepared intended as a guiding document for countries, and at the same time for facilitating coordinated and concerted action towards the achievement of the goal and objectives of the Decade of Action. Accordingly organisations of Bangladesh Government like Roads and Highways Department, Directorate of Health, BRAC, Grameen Phone and others are going to launch different road safety initiatives coinciding with the launching of the United Nations Decade of Actions for Road Safety 2011-2020 on 11 May 2011. 

Estimates suggest that about 1 billion taka each year is spent on road infrastructure by the country’s road authorities. Dedicating 10 percent of this fund towards meeting the objectives of the decade should be a priority for Bangladesh. Besides, ensuring funding support from the development partners for the initiatives and projects is essential for the implementation of the National Plan. Global Road Safety Facility of the World Bank, Regional Development Banks, governments and private sector donors have been invited by the United Nations to enhance efforts to ensure that this need is timely and adequately met.

Unless we act now we can predict that road accidents which have already killed tens of thousands of people, will become the leading cause of premature deaths and disabilities for children and young people. Fortunately while we can predict we can also prevent.

We can save millions of lives with more commitment to road safety.
It is time for action.

By A. Najmul Hussain
Director BRAC, former Chairman
BRTA and Commissioner, Dhaka Metropolitan Police

National Road Safety Strategic Action Plan 2008-2010
WHO (2009) Global Status Report on Road Safety
WHO Road Safety Status Report South Asia 2009


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