Development banks and aid donors confront needless tragedy of road deaths 

Brigita Schmögnerová, Osita Chidoka, Colin Jordan, Jean Lemierre, Lord Robertson, Karla González, Victor Kiryanov, David Ward 
(l-r) Brigita Schmögnerová, Vice President, EBRD, Osita Chidoka, Corps Marshal & Chief Executive, Federal Road Safety Commission, Nigeria  Colin Jordan, President, PIARC,  Thomas Mirow, President, EBRD, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, Chairman, Commission for Global Road Safety, Karla González, Minister of Transport, Costa Rica, General Victor Kiryanov, Chief, Road Traffic Safety Inspectorate, Ministry of the Interior, Russian Federation, David Ward, Director General, FIA Foundation
Lord Robertson
Lord Robertson of Port Ellen speaking at the Making Roads Safe conference

$4 billion of annual aid for road construction in developing countries is helping to fund ‘killer roads’ and must instead be used more effectively to stem a rapid increase in road deaths and injuries, development banks and aid donors were told on 4 July at a high level conference organised by the FIA Foundation and the Make Roads Safe campaign.

In an unprecedented move, the World Bank, regional development banks, the EU and leading donor countries including the UK, US and Australia met with representatives of governments from Africa, Asia and South America in London to discuss ways of ensuring that all internationally funded road projects in developing countries meet tough criteria for safety assessment and design. The meeting was held a few days before the G8 summit in Japan is expected to reaffirm the G8’s commitment to increased road infrastructure investment for development. 

It also marked a key point in the build up to the first UN Ministerial Conference on global road safety will be held in Russia in November 2009. The conference was approved by the UN General Assembly in March 2008 as concern grows about the rising road death toll, following an initial proposal and a global campaign by the Make Roads Safe coalition.

Road crashes cost developing countries up to $100 billion each year, a figure equivalent to all official overseas aid. The Making Roads Safe Conference heard that systematic implementation of safety assessments and design improvements to existing and new roads can act as a ‘vaccine for roads’, dramatically reducing road deaths.

New results from pilot programmes in four developing countries published by the International Road Assessment Programme (iRAP), show that tens of thousands of lives could be saved, with economic returns on investment of more than ten to one, if low cost road safety improvements such as road markings, pedestrian crossings and crash barriers are implemented nationally.

The iRAP ‘Vaccines for Roads’ report details projected benefits of network wide action to introduce road safety design improvements based on over 10,000kms of inspections in Costa Rica, Chile, Malaysia and South Africa

The need for urgent action was outlined at the conference by development and health experts:

  • More than one million people are killed on the roads of developing countries every year, and tens of millions are injured, a toll set to double by 2030. Road crashes are the leading cause of death for young people aged 10-24;
  • Road crashes will be the leading cause of disability and premature death for children aged 5 and over in developing countries by 2015, according to WHO projections.

The World Bank and regional development banks currently spend $4 billion on road projects annually but have no shared systematic road safety procedures. Speaking at the conference, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, Chairman of the Make Roads Safe campaign, said:

“Road infrastructure is a key priority of the international community and the governments of developing countries for its role in economic development and trade, and access to healthcare and education. Yet as roads are built or modernised, and speeds and traffic volumes increase, the death toll is rapidly rising. This is a tragedy which hits children, pedestrians and the working poor hardest of all. It is a needless tragedy because so many deaths could be prevented if road safety was required, prioritised and systematically implemented by the development banks and donor countries”.

Brigita Schmögnerová, Vice President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) which hosted the conference, said:

“Road safety has been a neglected issue, but this is beginning to change. The EBRD is committed to ensuring that its road portfolio is invested safely, so we are pleased to host this important safety meeting bringing together the development banks, donor countries and client governments. Momentum for action on road safety is building towards next year’s UN Ministerial Conference on road safety, and today’s meeting is an important step forward in this process”.

Michelle Yeoh, actress and Make Roads Safe campaign Ambassador, who recently saw the impact of unsafe roads on a fact finding visit to South Africa, said:

“Children are risking death and injury just to cross the road to the store or school. I have met mothers who would love for their voices to be heard. They need to protect their children, they are fighting for very basic human rights. They need pavements that should have been there, they need pedestrian crossings, the speed ramps that should have been there. We must act now to make these killer roads safe”.

Click here for the iRAP ‘Vaccines for Roads’ report >

‘Making Roads Safe’ examines the human and economic case for investing in safe road infrastructure and ending the tragic and unnecessary funding of killer roads by the international community.

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