Road traffic deaths and injuries in Bangladesh have been a silent epidemic. Road traffic crashes are not only family tragedies, they hinder economic growth and sustainable development.. Beyond those who are killed or disabled in road crashes, the stories of surviving family members reeling under acute economic shock is even more tragic. For the economic prosperity of the country and particularly the physical well-being of the youth, I see addressing road safety as an imperative development agenda.
During my visit to Bangladesh a few weeks ago, I was able to experience first-hand the high risk of traffic crashes on the congested, mixed-use streets of Dhaka. Even at very slow speeds, with a safe car and driver, we had two minor accidents where another vehicle hit our car. This reminded me of the recent grassroots movement that had surged across the country demanding better government ownership of the issue of road safety and stricter enforcement of traffic violations . It is very heartening to see the committed actions taken by the government to reform its legislative framework and to establish an independent ministerial committee to oversee the management of road safety. The new legislation is aimed at improving enforcement of traffic violations as well as driver licensing and vehicle registration systems. In meetings with senior Government officials, I noted their commitment to make Bangladesh’s roads safer. Civil society organizations have also played a key role in focusing attention on road safety, by sensitizing the public, providing community training, and raising media awareness about the cause.
At the same time it is equally important to recognize that road safety is not a transport issue alone. The issue requires a holistic approach and committed action from trauma care and emergency services, traffic police and enforcement, road engineering and most importantly the collaborative participation of non-governmental stakeholders. Bangladesh has many of the systems and partnerships already in place and with stronger political ownership, I am positive that crash deaths and injuries will be reduced in coming years.
This month, the World Bank approved US$358 million in financing for a project to support Bangladesh with civil works, road safety goods, and technical advisory services to improve road safety management and outcomes in the country. The project will improve coordination between relevant ministries including Road Transport and Bridges, Health, and Home Affairs, and will strengthen the existing institutional framework led by the National Road Safety Council. To reduce deaths from road traffic crashes by 30 percent on two high-risk national highways, the project will pilot comprehensive road safety measures such as improved engineering designs, IT management systems, pedestrian facilities, speed enforcement, and emergency care. Road-safety related governance and data management systems, including the roll-out of a national crash database system with gender-disaggregated data, which will enable evidence-based actions on road safety.
This project, which is the first stand alone World Bank-supported project on road safety in South Asia, demonstrates Bangladesh’s commitment to making safe roads a development priority. As a long-standing development partner of Bangladesh, the World Bank will engage closely with the ministry, civil society, NGOs, and the people of Bangladesh to make roads safer for Bangladeshis all over the country and to achieve the road safety targets set out in the Sustainable Development Goals that call for halving global road deaths and universal access to safe transport in cities by 2030. Ultimately, we hope that Bangladesh’s experience will be a model for improving road safety in a systemic way in other countries.