(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Urgent drive to act on road safety

Accident on the way to Bale Mountains, Oromia, Ethiopia
Micheal Porebiak/Flickr

Increasing traffic accident deaths are a likely consequence of economic and population growth in Africa unless leaders on the continent, already beset by the world's worst road-safety record, implement a wide-ranging plan to address the second leading cause of deaths of young people, specialists at a major conference told IRIN.

“Africa has the worst road safety record in the world, despite the fact that it has fewer cars than other regions,” Robert Lisinge, an expert in transportation at the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), told IRIN on the sidelines of the Second African Road Safety Conference held in Addis Ababa this month.

Between 10 and 20 people per 1,000 in Africa own a vehicle. In Western Europe and Canada, the figure is 600; in the United States, more than 800. Yet some 322,000 lives are lost in Africa every year in road traffic accidents, according to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO), [ ] which said the phenomenon was robbing the continent of its “breadwinners” and reducing national GDPs by between 1 and 5 percent, or US$10 billion a year.

“We are losing more human capital now and it’s affecting our economies. African governments, as well as others who have a say in this, need to do more to curb this,” Taye Birhanu, an economist with the Transportation and Development Forum, an NGO, told IRIN.

Worse to come?

Increasing populations and an average economic growth of 5 percent make the need for action all the more urgent, said Lisinge.

“If nothing is done, the poor accident record in Africa will even worsen as African countries develop economically and have more vehicles," he said.

According to the World Bank/WHO report, if the status quo continues, road deaths will soar by 30 percent by 2020.

There is a “need to awaken people’s consciousness, to stop this silent war often forgotten by society but one of the biggest wars, one that has claimed 10 million lives [worldwide] over the last decade,” says Sandra Vitale, a road traffic accident prevention campaigner, who lost a son in Addis Ababa while he was driving without wearing a seatbelt.

“Africa has the fastest-growing population statistics and, therefore, we also have to be fast and work as soon as possible by finding an efficient synergy between African nations to work on this issue,” she said.

Under the Accra Declaration signed in the Ghanaian capital in 2007, African transport and health ministers pledged to work to halve road deaths by 2015.

“The problem is that there were no action plans and clear strategies on how to implement the recommendations,” said Lisinge.

Now a more detailed way forward has been set out, in the form of the draft African Plan of Action for the Decade, a continentally tailored version of the WHO’s Global Plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety.

The African plan, which was reviewed at the Addis Ababa conference, envisages the creation of a continental body to  coordinate national strategies, especially with regard to ensuring safety is given more emphasis in the development of road construction. Safer vehicles, public education and post-crash response are other key elements of the African plan, which ministers are expected to endorse in Luanda, Angola, later in November.

“I think some countries have shown quite a lot of progress in terms of political will especially in establishing structures. One problem in Africa is that to prove you have improved your crash figures, you have to have a baseline,” said Elna van Niekerk, an adviser at the Global Road Safety Partnership (GRSP) , which groups government agencies, the private sector and civil society organizations.

“So it’s very difficult to say that we have really improved on our statistics because we really have to establish that baseline,” she said, adding that the African plan could help further mobilize political leaders across the continent.

The plan calls for mechanisms to monitor activities, indicators and accomplishments.

It also aims to bring down the continent’s average annual fatality rate from the current 32.2 per 100,000 people to 21.3.

“It’s generally accepted that if you put up some ambitious target, you will achieve a result. I am not saying we will exactly achieve halving this in time in each country but there will be significant results,” said Van Niekerk.


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