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8 Jun, 2009

First Global Road Safety Conference to Convene in Moscow

The First Global Ministerial Conference on road safety is to convene in Moscow on November 19-20, 2009 in an attempt to find ways to reduce the thousands of deaths and injuries occurring on roads and highways every day.

According to the UN World Health Organisation, more than 3,000 people die on the world’s roads daily. Tens of millions of people are injured or disabled every year. Children, pedestrians, cyclists and the elderly are among the most vulnerable victims.

A report prepared for the upcoming conference blames inappropriate and excess speed, non-use of seats and child restraints, drinking and driving, non-use of helmets by motorcyclists, poor designed or insufficient maintain road infrastructure, and vehicles

Says the report, “Every road death is a human tragedy leaving immeasurable grief and suffering in its wake. To these humanitarian costs can be added wider impacts. The lost productivity that comes with traffic injuries costs developing countries 1-2 percent of GDP.

“Already overstretched health systems are being placed under an intolerable burden. Visit a trauma ward in any major hospital in Nairobi, Sao Paolo, or Manila, and more than one in every five beds will be occupied by a road traffic patient.

“For the poor, a road injury is often a one-way trip into further poverty as income falls and health costs rise. Whole families are affected when a young breadwinner is killed or injured in a road crash, and there are often no social welfare systems to pick up the pieces.”

The conference is of particular relevance to Thailand where a high percentage of the road deaths and injuries occur during the long-weekends period of domestic travel. Many other fatalities are caused by drunk driving and helmetless-motorcyclists on the resort islands.

A high-level meeting to prepare for the Moscow conference was organised by Bangkok last week by the Transport Division of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia-Pacific.

According to a presentation by Dr Panuwat Parnket of the Public Health Ministry, the highest number of deaths on Thailand’s roads was 1995 with 16,727 fatalities. This has since dropped to a record low of 11,267 in 2008. The number of accidents has dropped from 124,530 in 2004 to 88,713 in 2008, and the number of injuries from 94,164 to 71,148 in the same period.

The Ministry credits this to a stringent “national agenda” level campaign that has focussed on education, enforcement, evaluation and improved engineering. The goal is to cut the number of road traffic fatalities from a high of 27 per 100,000 population in 1995 to 10 by 2016. It was 20 in 2007.

The Journal of the Institute of Transportation Engineers refers to road accident casualties as “one of the world’s most destructive, yet least reported, health emergencies.”

Recent studies show that road traffic deaths are the number one killer of 10-24 year-olds globally. More road construction and vehicles are expected to see the casualty figures increase for years to come. China and India are estimated to be losing at least 100,000 people a year to road crashes.

A report in the Journal says that the WHO projects an 80-percent increase in road-deaths by 2020 – an outcome that would add another one million people to casualty list. Yet, it says, “unlike malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/ AIDS, road deaths do not generate global initiatives – and they are absent from international development agendas.”

“The cost of road injury to developing countries alone is estimated at up to $100 billion a year – equivalent to all overseas aid from donor governments – yet road safety remains largely ignored as a development priority,” the journal said.

Delegates at the Bangkok conference wondered why fatalities in the aviation industry attract so much media attention but road casualties are treated far more trivially. The Moscow conference is designed to agree on a range of practical actions at the global level to lower the casualty count.

In another development, the Intergovernmental Agreement on the Trans-Asian Railway (TAR) Network will go into force on June 11 with a special ceremony at ESCAP.

Covering 114,000 km of rail routes linking 28 Asian countries, the network will boost rail transport services for goods and passengers within the region and between Asia and Europe. The Agreement has been signed by 22 countries and ratified by eight countries – Cambodia, China, India, Mongolia, Korea, Russian Federation, Tajikistan and Thailand.

The signing of the TAR agreement is significant because it comes in the year marking the 50th anniversary of its complementary transport infrastructure project, the Asian Highway.

To commemorate all the progress being made in these vital areas of infrastructure development, a wider forum of Asian Ministers of Transport is to be held in Bangkok from 14 to 18 December 2009.  The forum will discuss ways to boost movements through border crossings, facilitating investment, providing market access to rural communities and lowering the environmental impact.

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