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Road toll: Children pay the ultimate price Add to ...

More schoolchildren are being killed every day by traffic on the highways of the world's poorest countries than by deadly infectious diseases such as AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, according to a new report by the FIA Foundation, set up in 2001 by international motorsport's governing body to promote road safety.

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The carnage

Road accidents claim the lives of 3,500 every day, 3,000 in poor countries. This will rise to more than 5,700 a day in 10 years' time unless governments act. Kevin Watkins, an academic at Oxford University's global economic governance program and the author of the report, said that more lives among those aged 5 to 14 were lost on the roads than to malaria, diarrhea and HIV/Aids. While rich countries have brought down death tolls on the roads, the poor have a rising body count. On sub-Saharan African highways the projected deaths are set to double, while in Europe they will fall by 36 per cent in the next 10 years. In Ethiopia figures show 100 people were killed for every 10,000 cars. The comparable ratio for Japan is one death for every 10,000 cars. It means that when Ethiopians use their roads "they face a fatality risk in excess of 100 times that faced by a Japanese road user", the report notes.

The reasons

The rising toll is partly due to the increasing level of traffic. Another reason is that in poor nations road users can rarely judge what type of vehicle will be arriving in the often haphazard oncoming traffic: Delhi, India's capital, has 48 different modes of transport that include cows, elephants and camels, as well as rickshaws, cars, lorries, buses and SUVs. Without a separation of traffic streams from pedestrians or the building of raised curbs, the carnage will continue, the report says. Another factor was that often well-meaning safety legislation had little effect in countries where seatbelts were rarely worn and where no one could anticipate with any certainty the behaviour of the average road user.

Contributing factors

Rich countries have been complicit in this slaughter, according to the report. While donors such as the World Bank, wealthy nations and rising powers such as China have poured money into roads to help with the transport of commodities to ports, the construction has been done without "specific legislative targets for reducing fatalities and injuries." In Africa, one of the World Bank's biggest projects is the $640-million northern corridor linking Mombasa to oil-rich Sudan and the mineral wealth of Congo through Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda. Yet the money has been made available with no "reference to targets for cutting road deaths ... project documents for most of the major donors in the road sector [in the developing world]are similarly silent on provisions for road safety."

The recommendations

Aid donors needed to stop measuring the success of their policies in kilometres of roads, and start thinking about the safety of road users as well. The report calls for United Nations development initiatives to include a target to halt the spiralling number of traffic fatalities by 2015 when it meets this week to review progress towards eight millennium development goals that focus on issues such as child mortality and hunger. By failing to pay attention to road deaths, Mr. Watkins said, the ambitions of UN goals such as universal primary education were being undermined. The foundation said that aid donors had put up $300-million (U.S.) to help "refocus" national road safety policies and budgets in the developing world. The FIA report points out that Bloomberg Philanthropies, set up by Michael Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York, donated $125-million for road injury prevention last year, but more was needed.

Guardian News Service

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