Merely eight days after being sworn in, the newly elected Indian Minister for Rural Development, Mr. Gopinath Munde, died in a tragic car crash. While the nation grieves at the passing of an immensely popular and celebrated leader, politicians and the public got a reality check on the seriousness of the road safety epidemic prevalent in the country today.
The irony of the event was that a day before the incident, both authors of this post met with the Joint Secretary and Executive Officers of the Ministry of Rural Development to discuss improvements to road safety under the existing World Bank-funded Rural Roads project. This news is a stark reminder for the government and the Bank alike that a lot remains to be accomplished if we are to achieve a sustainable reduction in road deaths in India.
The Minister’s death added to the alarming list of fatalities that make India’s roads among the most dangerous in the world. Official statistics say around 140,000 people in the country die of such preventable crashes every year and health reports suggest even more. Simply put, 10% of the world’s road deaths take place on India’s roads – which account for less than 3% of the world’s vehicles! In light of those figures, India urgently needs to take comprehensive action to make its roads safer.
Few consumers in developing countries are aware of the standard safety features in vehicles, and in most cases, the government has failed to mandate the minimum crashworthiness safety standards as recommended by the UN. But the situation is starting to change, and it is exciting to see some progress since the last time I wrote about this important topic. In that blog, I had mentioned how the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) in Latin America highlighted the fact that new cars sold in that region were 20 years behind in safety technology compared to similar models sold in the US and the European Union.
Earlier this year in New Delhi, the Global New Car Assessment Program, a consumer-awareness non-profit, presented for the first time independent consumer crash test results for five of India’s most popular small cars. Besides increasing awareness among Indians about safety performance of the cars they buy, the event also explored how regulatory standards, in combination with consumer information and incentives, can create a ‘market for safer vehicles’ in the rapidly motorizing nations of the developing world.
Leaders in the transport, development, and for the first time, business sectors will convene for Transforming Transportation this week in Washington, DC.
Cities are the world’s engines of economic growth. Yet many have a long way to go when it comes to ensuring safe and affordable access to jobs, education, and healthcare for its citizens—in part because their transport systems are inadequate and unsustainable. This weakness is visible in packed slums and painful commutes in cities that fail to provide affordable transport options.
Inadequate transport comes with other costs related to air quality and safety. Beijing, China, battles dangerous levels of air pollution due in large part to motor vehicle emissions. Major Indian metropolises like Mumbai, Kolkata, and Chennai are growing out instead of up, contributing to increased travel distances and an estimated 550 deaths every day from traffic accidents. And across the globe, cities are the locus of up to 70 percent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions driving climate change.
Poor transport systems not only hinder the public health and economic growth of cities, they can spur civil unrest. More than 100,000 protestors, for example, gathered in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on one night in June 2013 to express a wide range of grievances, including transportation fare hikes, poor public services despite a high tax burden, and other urban issues.
But in these challenges lie significant opportunities – particularly for the business and transport sectors at the city level.
A few years ago I proudly put a sticker on my bicycle that claimed one should ‘bike local’ in order to ‘think global.’ These days, it seems that the car is unavoidable in the majority of growing cities and that instead of biking local one should avoid commuting at all.
and this is no joke. Some time ago, I travelled to rural Nepal to supervise joint DFID/World Bank work in improving access to remote communities. To reach the first village, Dailekh, we took a morning flight from Kathmandu and then drove for many hours. The further we travelled, the more uneven and less engineered the roads became, until the last ten miles to our destination were mere mud tracks. Night fell, the roads grew dark, and rain began to fall.