During my visits to Nepal, I often walked through the busy streets of Kathmandu or looked out the plane window and marveled at the sight of Nepal’s magnificent hills, with roads winding across them. And
. In 2019 alone, there were nearly 13,000 highway and road accidents with more than 2,700 deaths and 10,000 serious injuries. Road crash deaths and injuries in Nepal have been on a sharp upward trajectory since the early 2000s, as the country invested in increasing road connectivity and economic growth boosted vehicle ownership.
A Threat to Development
Apart from the enormous human toll, road safety has a major economic impact. A study by the World Bank in Nepal showed that the economic cost of road traffic injuries has increased threefold since 2007 and is equivalent to 1.5% of the gross national product.
Road crashes also have a devastating and disproportionate impact on the poor.The loss of income and medical expenses from a crash can thrust a family into deep poverty.
At a time when medical resources are already stretched to the limit by the pandemic, road crash injuries further burden the nation’s overstretched healthcare system.
Road safety is clearly not just a transportation challenge. It is a development challenge with strong impact on health, human capital, and economic growth, and we need to act urgently to address these challenges.
Going forward, the government needs to urgently enact the Road Safety Bill, and fully empower the National Road Safety Council.
The Road Ahead to Safety
The Government of Nepal has already taken many positive steps toward ensuring safer roads. Recently, the government revived the functioning of the inter-departmental National Road Safety Council (NRSC) led by the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport (MoPIT) as the apex body for road safety in the country. These efforts have been strengthened through an updated Road Safety Action Plan and a comprehensive National Road Safety Bill, under consideration in the Parliament.
This includes designing safer roads, improving vehicle standards, deterrence-based traffic enforcement and encouraging positive road user behavior. This will require bringing together different agencies responsible for road safety including transport, infrastructure, traffic police, health and emergency care, and education.
Another key priority will be to ensure adoption of critical standards and regulations and make them at par with global best practices. For example,
While helmet usage by riders has become increasingly common especially in urban areas, pillion rider usage is very rare. The market is also flooded with uncertified helmets that do not meet international standards. With the adoption of the road safety law, newer standards which comply with UN recommendations can be uniformly applied across the country yielding huge safety benefits.
As part of our long-standing partnership with MoPIT, we have launched an advocacy campaign to engage Nepali youth on road safety issues including safe helmet use. As those most affected by this crisis, it is crucial that youth are informed, engaged, and active in pushing for road safety.
We’ve also joined hands with the UN Special Envoy for Road Safety Jean Todt, the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), and Nepal Automobile Sports Association to launch the FIA Safe and Affordable helmet program to promote awareness of UN-standard helmets that are affordable and certified.
We are helping Nepal build safe infrastructure, providing technical assistance, and building capacity to help achieve its road safety goals.
Progress is Possible, with Cooperation
. The Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport has embraced road safety as an integral pillar to improve accessibility.
The World Bank remains committed to working closely with the government to help achieve the SDG target of reducing road crash deaths by half by 2030.
In 2016, a World Bank project with support from a UK Aid grant administered by the Global Road Safety Facility, installed 73,000 meters of road crash barriers along high-risk sections of 700 km of mountainous roads in Nepal. This intervention won the 2020 Prince Michael International Award for Effective Delivery of Global Road Safety and is expected to save up to 3,500 lives over the next 20 years.
The government has also improved its crash data management capacity with the development of an online Road Accident Information Management System currently piloted in Kathmandu valley.
However, the road safety battle cannot be won alone. Addressing these challenges will take the collective action of all stakeholders including the government, the international development partners, the private sector, civil society, and road users themselves.
With the necessary investments, strong political commitment, coordinated interventions, and collective action, we can take the high road to safety in Nepal and save countless lives.
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