GENEVA, Dec 01 (IPS) – Nneka Henry is Head of UN Road Safety Fund and Dudley Tarlton is UNDP Programme Specialist-Health and DevelopmentEven as the world recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic it will still face an epidemic on its roads, claiming over one million lives and injuring up to 50 million people annually. Against this head-spinning backdrop, making decisions that allow us to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal target of a 50% reduction in road deaths can feel like walking blindfolded.
All is not well, but all is not lost, either.
Data and analysis serve as a guiding light, providing a factual basis to drive effective strategies and investments. Whether it is tobacco control, alcohol consumption, or other non-communicable diseases like road traffic injuries, tapping into data helps us understand trends, identify patterns, and predict potential return on investment outcomes.
The United Nations Road Safety Fund (UNRSF) was created in 2018 in part to help low- and middle-income countries unlock sustainable sources of domestic road safety financing. In 2023, the year that the world declared the end of the global COVID-19 public health emergency, the UN has been scaling up its work to prevent road traffic deaths before they happen in the countries with some of the world’s highest road traffic fatality rates.
Specifically, UNRSF partners have been advocating that a powerful solution lies in making a robust investment case for road safety. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has recognized the significant gains to be made across the SDG agenda by reducing the harm from road crashes, a level of harm that is too often treated as acceptable. Guided by its health strategy, UNDP is working with Ministries of Transport to make the case to Ministries of Finance and Planning for increased and sustainable investments in road safety.
In Zambia, for the first-time ever, the government and UNDP, financed by UNRSF, have been working on a national road safety financing investment case. In Zambia, there are 24.7 road deaths per 100,000 population every year, which exceeds the global road fatality rate of 18.2 per 100,000 population. If current trends persist, Zambia will face 115,000 preventable deaths and more than 486,000 people will be permanently disabled over the next 30 years.
The investment case provides Zambian decision-makers with the nationally-based data and advocacy messaging that can help set priority actions and investment allocations for the ultimate public health outcome of saving as many lives as possible from preventable road traffic death.
The case found that road crashes cost the Zambian economy USD 910 million annually, equivalent to 4.7% of Zambia’s GDP. Yet the case for action is strong. By investing now in road safety, Zambia can avert more than 50,000 deaths, prevent more than 130,000 permanent disabilities, and avoid USD 12.8 billion in economic costs over 30 years.
The report highlights five key interventions – speed bumps, roadside pathways, road crossings, post-crash prehospital care, and alcohol breath testing – which collectively offer a significant return on investment. By investing in road safety measures, Zambia can expect a return-on-investment of 2.3:1 over 5 years and 9.6:1 over 30 years. This indicates a significant long-term financial benefit from these interventions.
UNDP has successfully used health investment cases before to help policymakers advocate for increased investment in the health interventions that yield the greatest health and economic returns. The cases have focused on health challenges such as non-communicable diseases, mental health, air pollution, tobacco control and now road safety.
This data-driven approach would likely yield similar or even greater outcomes for road safety, where many road deaths could be prevented with just a modest amount of catalytic and reliable funding. Primary responsibility rests with governments, which can ensure sustainability through state resource allocations, as well as road user charges, fuel taxes, levies on private sector insurance, traffic fines revenues, and loans.
UN Road Safety Fund partners remain committed to building roadmaps and capacities within governments through the use of investment cases and other sources of data and analysis – including the 2023 Global Status Report on Road Safety which will be launched on 13 December.
As we cross the halfway mark for implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, a key funding priority for UNRSF partners will be to co-design and leverage compelling country investment cases for road safety, which can be used to build an investable pipeline of projects with a broader programmatic approach to road safety.
Investing in road safety is not just a financial decision – though the case for the economic benefits have been made – it is also a public health imperative that will save lives and reduce inequalities. By addressing the staggering human, economic, and societal costs of unsafe roads, a sustainable domestic financing framework can be unlocked, leading to a safer, more prosperous future for all.
© Inter Press Service (2023) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service