In Nepal, road safety battle can be wonThe investment in road safety is not just a moral imperative, but a development priority.
Every time I cross the jammed roads in Nepal, or elsewhere in South Asia, I am reminded of how dangerous and even deadly they are for hundreds of thousands of people in the region. With just 10 percent of the world's vehicles, the region accounts for more than a quarter of global traffic deaths. Many crash victims are pedestrians, cyclists, or motorcyclists, and road crash deaths and injuries disproportionately affect the poor and most vulnerable, including children and youth.
This is too many lives lost, too many hopes and dreams broken, and the cost of inaction is just too high.
In late February, I joined the 3rd Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety in Stockholm that wrapped up with a declaration calling for stronger political will, international cooperation, and partnerships across society to halve the number of traffic crash deaths over the next decade.
Taking stock of 10 years of global road safety action, the event gathered some 80 ministers and delegations from around the world, who rightfully acknowledged the inroads made in raising the visibility of road safety globally.
Not least of which, the road safety agenda is now part of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals, elevating the issue to the same level as other critical areas such as good health, quality education, and clean water.
But despite this progress, the conference stands as a stark reminder that the last decade did not achieve the target of halving the number of road crash fatalities.
To end the scourge of road crash fatalities, Nepal must invest more strategically to manage road safety. Road crash deaths and injuries have been on a sharp upward trajectory in the country since the early 2000s—especially for more vulnerable road users. In 2016, pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists accounted for around 72 percent of all road fatality victims in Nepal, among the highest levels in the region.
The country must look at ways to design safer vehicles and roads. They must improve emergency response systems, share data on road crashes, and increase awareness about road fatalities and how to prevent them.
Every year, 1.35 million people lose their lives on the road across the world; millions more are seriously injured, and many are maimed. Globally, annual crash-related costs in developing countries are estimated at 2 to 5 percent of the national Gross Domestic Product.
Years of rapid economic growth, followed by an exponential rise in vehicle ownership, have resulted in rising traffic deaths and lost economic opportunities across South Asia. And what worries me the most is that children face growing road safety risks. About 40 percent of people killed on Nepal’s roads in 2017-18 were younger than 26.
A new World Bank report shows that Nepal will require an additional investment of $879 million over the coming decade to cut road crash fatalities in half.
This is undoubtedly a hefty sum, but it is also a vital, long-term investment that will save countless lives and contribute $1.2 trillion in estimated benefits to South Asian economies over a decade—the equivalent to 3.75 percent of regional GDP.
This investment is not just a moral imperative, but a development priority to end preventable road crash fatalities and lost economic opportunities.
In this effort, Nepal must take a two-pronged approach—working to enact and enforce laws to improve the safety of their roads while simultaneously working with their regional neighbours to enhance data collection and boosting coordination between police and other state agencies.
At the World Bank, we have significantly changed our approach to road safety. We ensure any infrastructure project we support has a mandatory road safety component. World Bank Group’s support to road safety has increased fourfold since 2006, averaging $223 million per year.
We now have a new screening tool to evaluate road investment project designs and ensure they will yield safer roads. The newly created Asia-Pacific Road Safety Observatory, with Nepal as a committed member, will be of great value to harmonize road safety data, develop local centres of excellence on road safety, support policies, and improve regional performance on road safety.
This work is not without precedent in Nepal and significant initiatives are underway. Guiding these efforts is the country’s National Road Safety Strategy and Road Safety Action Plan based on the five pillars of the United Nations Global Plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011–2020: road safety management; safer roads and mobility; safer vehicles; safer road users; and post-crash response.
These actions all contribute to achieving the Stockholm Resolution of halving road crashes by 2030. But on their own, they are not enough.
Above all, it will take the collective action of governments, in coordination with the international donor community, the private sector, civil society, and all stakeholders to move a needle of this magnitude. Fortunately, we have the data, the skills, and a roadmap in place. All we need now is resolute political action.
What do you think?
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