GENERAL ASSEMBLY INVITES WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION TO ACT AS COORDINATOR ON ROAD SAFETY ISSUES WITHIN UN SYSTEM

14 April 2004
GA/10236

GENERAL ASSEMBLY INVITES WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION TO ACT AS COORDINATOR ON ROAD SAFETY ISSUES WITHIN UN SYSTEM

14/04/2004
Press ReleaseGA/10236

Fifty-eighth General Assembly                              

Plenary                                                    

84th Meeting (AM)

General assembly invites world health organization to act

as coordinator on road safety issues within UN system

Convinced That Responsibility for Road Safety Rests at Local, National Levels,

Assembly Underlines Need for International Support of Developing Country Efforts

Stressing the importance of international cooperation in the field of road safety, while convinced that responsibility for road safety rests at the local, municipal and national levels, the General Assembly this morning invited the World Health Organization (WHO), working in close cooperation with the United Nations regional commissions, to act as a coordinator on road safety issues within the United Nations system.

Adopting, without a vote, a resolution on the global road safety crisis, the Assembly also recognized that developing countries and countries with economies in transition had limited capacities to address road safety and underlined the importance of providing further support for their efforts.  The Secretary-General was requested to submit a report on best practices on road safety, drawing upon expertise from the Organization’s regional commissions, as well as the World Health Organization and the World Bank.

Today’s meeting was convened in connection with the celebration of the World Health Day and the launching by the World Bank and WHO of the “World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention” last week.  According to that study some 1.2 million men, women and children are killed in traffic accidents every year, with many of those deaths preventable.  The discussion took place in implementation of last November’s resolution, which sought to increase awareness of the magnitude of the road traffic injury problem at a high level (for background information, see Press Release GA/10204 of 5 November 2003).

Some 27 speakers this morning noted that, based on the “World Report”, traffic accidents were well on their way to becoming the third leading cause of global death and disability by the year 2020 -– ahead of malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.  Thousands of people a day were killed in traffic accidents –- more than a million in the year 2000, with over 10 million injured, the vast majority of them in developing countries.  The worldwide economic costs of those casualties had been estimated at $518 billion a year –- $100 billion of it accrued by low- and middle-income countries.

“Road safety was no accident”, Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette said prior to action on the text, echoing the theme of the World Health Day on 7 April.  It required commitment at the highest levels of leadership.  “The less we do about it, the more lives will be shattered”, she added, stressing the importance of reminding “ourselves and each other that, working together, we can save lives”.

Several speakers agreed with Ms. Fréchette, who said that today’s meeting brought much-needed attention to a global crisis that “exists right in front of our eyes yet, with some exceptions, has until now been strangely off the radar screen of public policy and political will”.  The problem was of a multisectoral nature, and efforts were needed in such areas as public transportation, education, health, police, justice and finance.

Outlining the main recommendations of the world report on traffic injury prevention, the Director-General of WHO, Lee Jong-Wook, listed laws on seat-belts, child restraints, helmets and drunk driving, daytime running lights and improved visibility for all road users among the actions that were known to be effective.  In addition to setting laws and raising awareness, countries needed to make policies that promoted safer vehicles, traffic management, and road design.  Public health needed to increase its contribution by strengthening emergency services for victims, improving data collection, contributing to policy-making, and promoting prevention activities.  International agencies, the donor community and non-governmental organizations, all had an important role to play in promoting road safety.

Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Carol Bellamy, said that the solutions involved a range of activities that could engage the entire United Nations system.  Experts referred to the mix as the three Es:  education, engineering and environment.  The UNICEF’s role began at the beginning, with education, she stressed.  For UNICEF, promoting road safety and injury prevention for children was a natural fit with its country programmes of cooperation in everything from early childhood development to adolescent support.

Stressing the importance of learning from best practices around the world, participants in the debate also shared their national experiences in promoting road safety and elaborated on possible means of achieving greater coherence of international efforts, including introduction of unified norms and standards and provision of technical support to countries in need.

The draft resolution was introduced by Yousef Bin Alwai Bin Abdullah, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Oman, which had put forward the initiative on the road safety crisis.  Participating in the discussion were representatives of Ireland (on behalf of the European Union and associated States), United States, Kazakhstan, Costa Rica, China, Russian Federation, Kuwait, India, Thailand, Egypt, Bangladesh, Iceland, Fiji (on behalf of the Pacific Island Forum Group), Japan, Australia, Ecuador, Switzerland, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia.

Statements were also made by Acting President of the Assembly, Javad Zarif, and representatives of the World Bank and the observer from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

The Assembly will continue its work at 3 p.m. today, when it is scheduled to take up a draft resolution on the role of diamonds in fuelling conflicts.

Background

In connection with World Health Day and the launching of the “World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention”, the General Assembly met this morning to discuss matters related to the global road safety crisis.  Last November, the Assembly adopted a resolution (document A/58/L.3/Rev.1 and Add 1) calling for the holding of today’s meeting in order to increase awareness, at a high level, of the magnitude of the road traffic injury problem.

That text also requested the Department of Public Information (DPI) to organize a meeting of experts, the private sector, relevant non-governmental organizations, members of civil society and other interested parties, including the media, on the morning of 15 April 2004, in connection with the plenary meeting, to raise awareness and exchange information on best practices.  In addition, the Assembly requested the Secretary-General to submit a report at its sixtieth session on the progress made in improving global road safety and the issues reflected in the present draft resolution.

Today, the Assembly has before it a draft resolution on improving global safety (document A/58/L.60/Rev.1), by which it would invite the World health Organization (WHO), working in close cooperation with the United Nations regional commissions, to act as a coordinator on road safety issues within the United Nations system.  It would also request the Secretary-General to draw upon expertise from the Organization’s Regional Commissions, the World Health Organization and the World Bank in submitting his report to the Assembly at its sixtieth session.

The text would also express the Assembly’s conviction that the responsibility for road safety rested at the local, municipal and national levels, and recognize that developing countries and countries with economies in transition had limited capacities to address road safety issues.  It would, therefore, underline the importance of international cooperation towards further supporting the efforts of such countries in the field of road safety and of providing financial and technical support for their efforts.

JAVAD ZARIF, (Iran) Acting President of the General Assembly, said that each year, road accidents accounted for more than 1 million deaths and injured or disabled between 20 and 50 million persons.  Such a growing crisis affected all Member States, and it now had its proper place on the international agenda.  Today’s meeting provided the international community with an opportunity to examine the multifaceted issues concerning road safety and to focus on the development of effective strategies to address it.

Since the Assembly had first taken the issue up at its fifty-seventh session, the United Nations had taken steps to bring it to the forefront for consideration and action.  It was an initiative carried out with cooperation of WHO, the World Bank and other agencies.  With the theme “Road Safety is no Accident”, World Health Day last week, for example, had been dedicated to road safety.  The recently launched World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention, co-produced by WHO and the World Bank, set out in detail the core issues surrounding road accidents, including their global impact, risk factors and ways to address the problems.

The statistics were startling, he continued.  The global costs of road accidents and resulting injuries amounted to some $518 billion.  Developing countries accounted for some $65 billion of that amount, which was more than what they received in official development assistance.  The majority of motor vehicles were operated in the developed world, and it might be expected that most fatalities would occur there.  The statistics, however, showed that low- and middle-income countries accounted for about 85 per cent of deaths and a disproportionately high percentage of disability globally.  Around the world, injuries were among the leading causes of death for people aged 15 to 44.  The social costs were incalculable.  The loss of breadwinners and the long-term care for people disabled in road traffic accidents drove many families into poverty, particularly in the developing world.

Today’s meeting, therefore, must be a catalyst for further action and strengthening international cooperation, he said.  The General Assembly continued to raise awareness among Member States of the need to critically examine the national and international public policy dimensions of global road safety.  The initiatives in that regard must re-emphasize the setting of strict international standards, worldwide cooperation and, in the case of developing countries, capacity-building.  Addressing the broader issues of accident prevention, including in the development of infrastructure, also merited urgent consideration.  The international community as a whole had been encouraged to be part of that process –- governments, international organizations, civil society and the private sector.

It was possible to reduce the risk of death and injury, he stressed, if a systematic approach was promoted to understanding how people, vehicles and the environment interrelated.  A broad approach was also required, encompassing such areas as emergency health services, education for prevention, legislation and law enforcement.  Member States were in agreement that it was necessary to do more to address the issue of road traffic safety and make it the focus of attention by the United Nations system.  Necessary resources should be mobilized to assist developing countries improve road safety, consistent with the gravity and urgency of the problems they faced.

Deputy Secretary-General LOUISE FRÉCHETTE said that today’s meeting brought much-needed attention to a global crisis that “exists right in front of our eyes yet, with some noble exceptions, has until now been strangely off the radar screen of public policy and political will”.  Surely, some 1.2 million men, women and children killed in traffic accidents every year “should be enough” to make road safety a leading issue in global public health.

As with so many other public health problems, the poor suffered disproportionately, she pointed out.  More than 80 per cent of those 1.2 million deaths occurred in low- and middle-income countries.  And in those countries, those most at risk of being injured or killed in a crash were pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, and people who used informal means of public transport.

The human consequences of road crashes were frequently devastating, she continued.  Survivors and their families had to cope with the painful and often long-term consequences of injury, disability and rehabilitation.  The cost of care and the loss of a primary breadwinner could drive a family into poverty.  The economic costs were also enormous.  Road traffic injuries cost most countries between 1 and 2 per cent of their gross national product –- a total of more than $500 billion every year.  The cost in the low- and middle-income countries exceeded the amount they received in development assistance.

It did not have to be that way, she said, as many of the risks involved were entirely within human control.  Many crashes could be prevented, while the effects of many others could be reduced.  Much needed to be done to raise awareness.  It was necessary to ensure that hard-earned gains in public health and development were not undermined by those preventable deaths and injuries.

“Yes, we have a lot of work to do”, she concluded.  “But we know what works, and we have the knowledge at hand to make the necessary changes.”  It was a multisectoral problem, not just the domain of ministries of transport.  Also involved should be the ministries of health, finance, environment, education, justice, police and others.  Many organizations and experts throughout the world were teaching and learning about road safety, and taking the initiative to make roads safer.  The United Nations family, including the World Health Organization, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Bank and others, would continue to play its role.

She called upon the MemberStates and civil society to take concerted action on key issues, such as wider dissemination of safety devices, improved design of roads and vehicles, and firmer action against speeding and those who drive while their reactions are impaired by alcohol or drugs.  Another call was for the donor community to make additional investments in that area.  Current support for road safety in developing countries was insufficient.  Such contributions would be cost effective.  Even more important, they would save lives.

Road safety was no accident, she concluded.  It required commitment at the highest levels of leadership.  “The less we do about it, the more lives will be shattered”, she added, urging the Assembly to adopt a resolution that would reflect the international community’s unanimous will to improve global road safety.  It was important to “remind ourselves and each other that, working together, we can save lives”.

LEE JONG-WOOK, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), recalled that the first person to be killed by a car had been Bridget Driscoll, a 44-year-old mother of two, who was knocked down at London’s CrystalPalace on 17 August 1896.  The car had been travelling at 12 km per hour.  Speaking at the inquest, the British coroner had warned:  “This must never happen again.”  The world, to its great loss, had not taken his advice.

The deaths, injuries and economic losses caused by road accidents could be prevented, he stressed.  The World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention, launched last week in Paris,set out the known risk factors and the prevention measures that were known to be effective.  Some of those were:  to set and enforce laws on seat-belts, child restraints, helmets and drunken driving; and to promote daytime running lights and improved visibility for all road users.

In addition to setting laws and raising awareness, countries needed to make policies that promoted safer vehicles, traffic management, and road design.  The countries that had engaged many different groups from government, civil society and industry, in a coordinated road safety programme, had been most successful in their efforts.  Every sector -- especially transport, education, health, and law enforcement -- had a role to play in tackling the problem.

Public health needed to increase its contribution by strengthening emergency services for victims, improving data collection, contributing to policy-making, and promoting prevention activities, he said.  International agencies, the donor community and non-governmental organizations, all had an important role to play in promoting road safety.  Everybody, whether as pedestrians, drivers or decision-makers, could contribute to that effort.

Road safety was no accident, he concluded.  Traffic injuries decreased wherever people recognized that they could be prevented, and acted accordingly.  “Let us all decide here and now to give road safety the priority it deserves”, he said.

YOUSEF BIN ALWAI BIN ABDULLAH, Minister Responsible for Foreign Affairs of Oman, said road traffic crashes and injuries were a major development and public-health problem.  Statistics indicated that nearly 3,000 people perished each day due to road traffic crashes, resulting in 1 million deaths every year.  Low- and middle-income countries accounted for some 85 per cent of those deaths.  In addition, some 20 to 50 million people were injured each year, some with life-long disabilities.  If appropriate action was not taken to remedy the problem, road traffic injuries could become the third cause of death in developing countries by 2020.

Road traffic injuries also posed dire economic consequences, he said.  Some $518 billion were spent each year on road traffic injuries, adding to the economic burden faced by countries despite limited resources.  No effort should be spared in supporting programmes to improve safety for all road users.  Steps implemented by his country in that regard included the promulgation of legislation, the establishment of a national agency on road safety, updating comprehensive regulations to meet the needs of the injured and the creation of a registry to obtain detailed information on the consequences of injuries.

The deliberations on road safety should go beyond a ceremonial nature, he said.  Serious and immediate steps were needed at the national, regional and global levels, requiring strong political will and concerted, sustained efforts across a broad range of sectors.  Oman’s initiative to raise global awareness on road safety, through Assembly resolution 58/9, was based on that premise.  The resolution emphasized the need to put in place mechanisms to affirm safety for road users through reducing the negative impact of road crashes.

He said the draft resolution invited WHO, working in cooperation with Regional Commissions, to act as a coordinator on road safety issues within the United Nations system.  It also requested the Secretary-General in submitting his report to the Assembly’s sixtieth session to draw upon the expertise of the Regional Commissions and WHO and the World Bank.  The draft also underlined the need for further strengthening international cooperation taking into account the needs of developing countries to deal with road safety issues.  The responsibilities ahead were great, requiring strong political will within the framework of global participation between Member States, regional and international organizations and civil society.

SEAMUS BRENNAN, Minister for Transport of Ireland, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that the European Road Safety Action Programme, presented by the European Commission in June 2003, aimed to realize a 50 per cent reduction in the number of people killed in traffic collisions by 2010 as compared to 2001.  In the current 15-member Union, there were 1.3 million accidents annually, causing 40,000 deaths and 1.7 million injuries, with an estimated economic cost of 2 per cent of the European Union’s gross domestic product (GDP).

He said the programme identified as main causes of collisions and as major contributing factors to their effects:  excessive speed, drinking and driving and non-use of protective measures such as seat belts and motorcycle helmets.  For that reason, it underlined the urgent need for stricter enforcement of existing legislation in that respect.

The programme also placed great emphasis on the absolute need to engage civil society in the delivery of better road safety, he said.  To that effect, it encouraged the signing of a “Road Safety Charter” by actors from the public and private sectors, in which those actors should list their individual aims and actions concerning road safety.  The programme also placed great emphasis on the need for the gathering of collision data and the information relating to collision prevention programmes deployed in each of the Union’s member States.  That would be achieved through the establishment of the European Road Safety Observatory, which would disseminate information on best practices in addressing road safety challenges.

NORMAN MINETA, Secretary of Transportation of the United States, said that since the mid-1960s, when his country had a death rate of 5.5 fatalities for every 100 million vehicle miles travelled, its population had grown substantially and the numbers of both cars and drivers had increased tremendously.  Yet during that that same period, the death rate had been cut by 72 per cent to 1.5 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles travelled.  President Bush’s Administration aimed to further reduce the traffic death rate to one death per 100 million vehicle miles travelled by 2008.

He said that in a single generation, the United States had dramatically reduced the number of child fatalities in traffic crashes, which were today at an historic low.  In 1966, the Government had established a single agency focused on road traffic safety, given it the authority to act, and a dedicated funding source to get the job done.  The agency had begun gathering reliable data on how safe the children were when riding in motor vehicles.  Using that data, it had been able to develop a comprehensive approach to reduce child fatalities.

Engineers had designed cars to better absorb impact and protect children in the event of a crash, he said.  Parents had been educated on the importance of using car seats.  Standards had been established for vehicle and child seat manufacturers, and legislators had passed child passenger safety laws to ensure the protection of children.  The traffic safety agency had been working for 30 years to improve emergency medical services and trauma systems so that crash victims were properly cared for after a crash.

OMURXAK TUSSUMOV, Head of Traffic Police, Ministry of Internal Affairs of Kazakhstan, said that the relevance of today’s issue was indisputable.  Of particular concern was the fact that young people were increasingly among the victims of traffic accidents.  The economic and social costs of the problem were enormous, and comprehensive policies needed to be elaborated in the area of road traffic safety, which needed to be the focus of attention at both national and international levels.  For many countries, the main problems of road safety were the absence of uniform technical standards and poor service infrastructure.  In that connection, he stressed the importance of WHO’s coordinating role.

Turning to his country’s national experience, he listed such efforts to reduce traffic fatalities and injuries as legislative measures, guidelines to promote safety and domestic programmes directed towards road traffic safety.  The country’s organization of road traffic corresponded to the international norms and requirements.  Based on the great importance of the problem, Kazakhstan fully supported Oman’s initiative and the call for international unity and cooperation in dealing with the issue of road safety.

KARLA GONZALEZ, Vice-Minister for Transportation of Costa Rica reaffirmed her country’s firm political commitment to handling the issue of road safety.  Costa Rica’s national traffic plan addressed six measures, including infrastructure, traffic police, education, legislation, the way in which licenses were granted and various campaigns.  A number of projects had been identified which had not contained road safety content.  In two years, Costa Rica had changed the role of the traffic police, who had been used to passive monitoring, reacting only after an accident took place.  The police now understood that they played a significant role in accident prevention.  Costa Rica’s President had also signed a decree introducing the issue of road traffic safety in school curricula.

A safety-belt campaign had been launched just six months ago, she said.  In that time, legislators had made seat-belt use mandatory.  Her country was glad to sponsor the draft as the elements were key to preventing continued deaths on the roads.  This year in Costa Rica, some 50 deaths had been prevented as a result of its measures.  The battle was worth the effort, and only by making road safety a priority would success be possible.

ZHANG YISHAN (China) said all governments should shoulder the primary responsibility, with the business, health, education and media sectors, as well as non-governmental organizations joining hands in a common effort against road traffic injuries.  China supported the close cooperation among the General Assembly, all the regional economic and social commissions, WHO and the World Bank in continuing to pay greater attention to the problem.

Noting that China’s traffic death toll had exceeded 100,000 each year from 2001 to 2003, with injuries averaging over 500,000 and economic losses of more than $300 million annually, he said that a lack of safety awareness on the part of drivers, poor road conditions and traffic environments, and inadequate management standards were the major causes of traffic injuries.

He said that in order to bring the current high rate of traffic injuries under control and reduce it year by year thereafter, the State Council had established an inter-ministerial joint-session mechanism for road traffic safety with the Ministry of Public Security as the lead department and 15 governmental bodies participating in coordination and planning.  Last October, the Standing Committee of the Chinese People’s Congress had adopted the Road Traffic Safety Act, which would enter into force on 1 May 2004.

V.N. KIRYANOV, Head of the Road Traffic Safety Inspectorate of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation, said that road traffic injuries remained one of the most urgent socio-economic problems facing the international community.  The latest WHO-World Bank report provided a full illustration of that point.  Naturally, the programmes to address the problem needed to take into account the national experience of countries in that respect.

In 2003, there had been 204,267 road accidents in Russia, in which some 35,600 people died and 244,000 were injured. Compared to 2002, the number of accidents and deaths had increased.  As before, the human factor had played a major role in the fatalities and injuries statistics.  Aggressive behaviour by drivers, speeding, drunk driving and other violations of traffic rules were the causes of many accidents.

The solution of the crisis lay in a comprehensive approach to the problem, which should include legislative measures and the implementation of international norms, he said.  The Russian Federation was working on strengthening the legal basis for dealing with traffic violations.  Other steps included measures to improve public transportation and organize traffic, as well as preventive measures to reduce child injuries and separate pedestrian and traffic flows.  Also, the acceptable blood level of alcohol had been reduced.

NABEELA ABDULLAH AL-MULLA (Kuwait) said her delegation had become aware of the agenda item when it was introduced during the Assembly’s fifty-seventh session.  Road accidents were the third cause of death around the world.  Kuwait also suffered from the effects of road accidents.  According to the latest statistics, road traffic accidents in 2002 had caused some 315 deaths.  The number of accidents in 2003 was about 45,000 resulting in some 372 deaths, mostly men between the ages of 20 and 44, which was the most productive age for men in Kuwait.  Kuwait’s population was less than 1 million.

She said the Gulf States were among the first victims of road accidents.  Kuwait attached all importance to the issue, initiating traffic weeks among the countries of the Gulf region to limit the number of traffic accidents.  A number of meetings and seminars had been held on the subject, including a recent meeting in Qatar.  Kuwait would act on the international and regional level to mitigate the effects of accidents on people’s lives.

Solutions must be found, she said.  The figures presented today were not simply public statistics, but were a motivation to attach great priority to the issue.  The cost of road accidents was some $518 billion annually.  She emphasized the need to grant assistance to affected countries.  Kuwait welcomed the efforts of WHO to highlight the issue and make road safety the main topic of World Health Day.

A. GOPINATHAN (India) said his country attached importance to addressing the problem of road traffic safety and to reducing the adverse consequences of traffic accidents.  The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways had been entrusted with the responsibility for formulating policies for road safety.  The Ministry compiled data on road accidents and prepared annual road safety plans.  Various initiatives being implemented included publicity campaigns, grants to non-governmental organizations for organizing road safety programmes and creating awareness, and a national highway accident relief service scheme.

The linkage between poverty and underdevelopment on the one hand, and road safety on the other, had been brought out very clearly in the Secretary-General’s report, he said.  Factors such as driver fatigue, old and unsafe vehicle design, unclear marking of intersections and unsatisfactory driver training were some of the more important factors for road accidents.  Strategies could not be transferred to or replicated by developing countries in a purely mechanical way.  The imperative for increasing international cooperation to assist developing countries to address issues of road safety could not be overemphasized.

Despite initiatives already under way, he said there was also scope for further international cooperation.  Such cooperation needed to extend beyond the development of international instruments or the universalization of standards that might have been developed in one region.  He was happy that the resolution recognized the importance of supporting the efforts of developing countries to build capacities in the field of road safety and of providing financial and technical support for their efforts.

LAXANACHANTORN LAOHAPHAN (Thailand) said it was evident that in many countries, especially developing ones, motorized transport deaths and injuries led to significant social and economic losses.  Thailand was no exception.  Road accidents were one of the top three public-health problems in his country.  In 2002, social and economic losses resulting from motorized transport deaths and injuries in Thailand amounted to some 2.13 per cent of the country’s GDP.  In that year, more than 13,000 deaths and more than 1 million injuries were caused by road accidents.  Fully aware of the magnitude of the problem, the Thai Government had placed the reduction of road traffic injury high on the national agenda, emphasizing the urgent need to design systemic policies to tackle road safety problems at all levels.

Political commitment and consistent strict enforcement of road traffic laws at the municipal, provincial and national levels were needed for initiatives relating to road safety to generate the intended results, she said.  In 2003, the Government had established the Road Safety Operations Centre to be the lead agency in coordinating efforts of various sectors of the country in designing and implementing multisectoral, integrated and systematic action plans to tackle the nation’s road safety problems.  The Thai Government had also enacted legislation that increased fines and penalties for traffic violations.

Aside from stringent rules and regulations for motorists, the Thai Government had also examined other issues associated with road safety.  Thailand was trying to mobilize more financial resources to support road safety initiatives through the establishment of a Road Safety Fund.  The Government was also upgrading injury and accident surveillance systems to collect reliable accident data for future planning.  In support of efforts taken at the international level, the Thai Government had designated 2004 as the National Year of Road Safety.  As roads continued to serve as a socio-economic link between peoples, Thailand would continue to do the utmost to improve road safety.  She urged the United Nations network to strengthen its support to Member States that needed assistance in carrying out their initiatives.

AHMED ABOUL GHEIT (Egypt) stressed the importance of mobilizing international support for addressing the global road safety crisis and expressed his country’s support for the draft under discussion.  Like other States, Egypt suffered human and economic losses in connection with the crisis.  For years, the country had been taking measures to address the issue, which included public awareness campaigns and prevention efforts.  However, such efforts required significant resources, and developing countries deserved particular attention in that respect.

He welcomed the draft resolution, calling upon WHO to undertake a coordination role in international efforts to improve road safety.  The WHO should not be the only agency involved in the efforts, however.  All other parts of the United Nations system and players from civil society and the public and private sectors should contribute to the issue, the importance of which was emphasized by the report made public last week.  When preparing the next report on the issue, the Secretariat should include in it information on the ways in which the international community could provide assistance to developing countries.

IFTEKHAR AHMED CHOWDHURY (Bangladesh) said the staggeringly high figures of deaths and injuries caused by road accidents were nearly as high as those caused by global conflicts, HIV/AIDS, anti-personnel mines and other major global public health concerns, but road traffic accidents did not attract as much media attention.  The dead or inured were often young, in their productive years, leaving their families deprived.  The lack of reliable and accurate data on road traffic casualties made it even more difficult to assess the actual extent of losses, both human and socio-economic.  Most of the tragic losses could be prevented and even significantly reduced if their root cause were addressed effectively and collectively.  An immediate mass awareness campaign about the seriousness of the global road safety problem at the national and international levels was needed.

Bangladesh had long placed the road safety problem among its few national public safety concerns, he said.  The high prevalence of deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents every year caused Bangladesh irreconcilable human suffering and irreplaceable losses of lives and resources.  Bangladesh’s Government was making every effort to “own and drive” national road and safety policies and programmes.  Notwithstanding its limited resources and institutional capacities, Bangladesh planned to take the social movement to the regional and global levels.

Now was the time to act on the report’s key recommendations, he said, particularly the “systems approach” on five critical areas for effective interventions for safer roads.  Minimizing risk and optimizing safety was key.  While countries had developed a strong will to prevent roads from becoming death traps, commensurate financial and technical assistance to implement road safety capacities must be forthcoming.  Bangladesh attached great importance to the sharing of best practices on road safety.  Bangladesh called on all MemberStates and the Secretariat to consider proclamation by the United Nations of “Global Road Safety Day”, as it would raise awareness among a range of actors about their involvement, ownership, political will and sustained efforts to prevent road traffic injury.  He suggested 22 October in that regard.

HJALMAR W. HANNESSON (Iceland) said that, while road safety should first and foremost be addressed at the national and regional levels, it should also clearly be dealt with at the international level, preferably within the United Nations system.  Therefore, he wanted to express his country’s support for the Omani initiative and thank the delegation of Oman for bringing such an important subject to the Assembly’s attention.

Regarding his country’s experience, he said that the Government of Iceland had recently published a traffic safety plan for the period up to the year 2012.  The main goal was to make Iceland a model society in road traffic safety and raise awareness among the public that even one accident was one too many.  The country had already experienced a reduction in fatal and other serious accidents, but the goal was a further 40 per cent decrease in the next eight years.  The emphasis of the new plan would be on safer speed, use of safety equipment, improved driver education and tests, improving the safety of roads and strengthening police patrols.  Good cooperation between all the parties concerned in Iceland had been essential for achieving success.

The study that had been issued in Iceland on the International Health Day had established that traffic law violations made up 72 per cent of all registered crimes at an enormous cost to society, both in human and financial terms, he said.  It was the negative consequences of road traffic accidents that all countries had in common, while conditions varied.  Those negative consequences made it worthwhile for all countries to address the problem at the international level.

ISIKIA R. SAVUA (Fiji) noted that a survey recently conducted by the World Health Organization showed that road accidents were the second cause of death for people between the ages of five and 29 and the third cause of death for people between the ages of 30 and 44, representing the group of people who most actively contributed to national economies.  The WHO also had forecast an 80 per cent increase in traffic fatalities in low- and middle-income countries by 2020 if preventive measures were not taken immediately.  As road safety was a global issue, the resolution would require collective efforts to set up mechanisms that would drive strategies which would assist in reducing road accidents.

Most accidents and injuries were preventable if adequate resources and suitable measures were in place, he said.  While the primary responsibilities lay with Member States, there was an even greater need to strengthen partnerships between MemberStates and the United Nations system for sharing knowledge, best practices and maximizing the use of limited resources.  In that regard, regional cooperation must also be reinforced to assist developing countries.

The reduction in the trend of accidents reflected the efforts of the Fiji National Road Safety Council to reduce accident figures, he said.  Those efforts included launching awareness campaigns around the country to promote road safety for all road users, and those with children in particular.  Educating road users had been the hallmark of the Council both in rural and urban areas.  Fiji would continue to give priority to road safety as it was an issue worth investing in, in terms of money, time and resources.  Fiji was also willing to participate in regional initiatives in that regard amongst Pacific Island States.

TOSHIRO OZAWA (Japan) said that to be effective, action on road safety must reflect the different situations of traffic, rules, regulations and practices that prevailed in each country.  National governments had the best knowledge of those matters, and they should assume the primary responsibility for preventing road injuries, working in close cooperation with municipal and provincial authorities.  The United Nations could assist those efforts by Member States by promoting and facilitating cooperation among them, including through best practices exchange.  Also important was the role of regional economic commissions, and it was necessary to draw from their expertise.

Turning to his country’s experience, he said that in 2002, the number of fatalities had fallen to 8,236 from its 1970 peak of 16,765.  Japan’s efforts included improvement of safety standards for motor vehicles, identification of high-accident locations and analysis of the causes of accidents.  Based on that experience, he emphasized the importance of a collaborative approach by all government agencies concerned, as well as accurate data collection.  Also, each action had to be evaluated so that there would be a continuing process on improving policy.

Developing countries often had limited capacities to address the issue, he continued.  Aware of that problem, Japan tried to assist those countries, which had the political will, but lacked sufficient resources to act on their resolve.  For example, his country had contributed approximately $9 million to Nepal to improve the condition of 10 intersections in Katmandu in 2001.  There was a variety of actors who had a role to play in promoting road safety, and it was necessary to bear in mind the responsibilities of each of them.  The United Nations was also an actor, but it was necessary to consider what real added value it could and would offer.  With concerted efforts of all concerned, it was possible to tackle the huge challenge of road safety efficiently and effectively.

JOHN DAUTH (Australia) associated himself with the statement by Fiji on behalf of the Pacific Island Forum Group and said that his country’s efforts to improve road safety included such measures as introduction of minimum safety standards in vehicle manufacturing, investments in improving the quality and safety of roads and programmes to assist young and novice drivers.

The measures to improve road safety had been highly successful, but Australia believed that the road fatality rate could be further reduced, he said.  Towards that end, the Government and local governments had adopted a national road safety strategy, supported by action plans, which aimed to reduce the road fatality rate per 100,000 people by 40 per cent –- from 9.3 in 1999 to no more than 5.6 by 2010.  It was in the light of that commitment to do more to achieve improved road safety that Australia welcomed Oman’s initiative.

While national initiatives may remain the cornerstone of efforts to improve road safety, there was no question that everybody could benefit from sharing of experiences, exchanging information as to best practices and by learning from one another’s successes.  What today’s draft achieved, in inviting WHO -- in cooperation with various regional commissions –- to act as a coordinating body on the issue, was to facilitate the very exchange of information that he had described.

LUIS GALLEGOS CHIRIBOGA (Ecuador) said the number of deaths and injuries resulting from road accidents had led to a crisis in the public-health sector at the global level.  Urgent measures were needed to tackle the magnitude of the problem.  His Government was resolved not only to improve the rules for traffic safety but also to put in place an effective monitoring system to assist persons affected by road accidents.  He also stressed the importance of international cooperation on traffic issues, as information exchanges would make it possible to enrich each country’s domestic databases.  The injuries caused put a severe strain on the domestic health systems.  In that regard, Ecuador had a road traffic culture which included education in schools on traffic legislation issues and first aid.  Using seat belts had saved countless lives in his country.

The best way to avoid accidents was for each individual to assume responsibility for driving only when one was capable, he said.  Having the item on the Assembly’s agenda would ensure concerted international attention on the issue.

BENNO LAGGNER (Switzerland) said the World Health Organization was right in proclaiming that road accidents were not inevitable.  He hailed the efforts of the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), which had proclaimed the week of 5 to 11 April as road safety week.  During that week, all ECE members had embarked on campaigns on the theme, “respect is safety”.  Switzerland experienced road safety incidents and had adopted the target of halving the number of injured by 2010.  It was not enough to apply short-term measures.  Those measures must be built into a more technical framework, which required strong political will.  A consistent global approach must also be developed to ensure that vehicles and road infrastructure were technically safe.  Those goals could be achieved through training, education, incentive schemes and many other measures.  Goals must also be achieved through other international initiatives, such as worldwide conventions on road safety issues.

He stressed the importance of close coordination between WHO and the ECE, as well as the United Nations, as they also had solid experience in the area of road safety.  Since the participating organizations were based in Geneva, close synergy would be possible.  Developing road safety initiatives would be a long-term endeavour.  He emphasized the need to step up efforts in that regard.

RASTAM MOHD ISA (Malaysia) congratulated WHO and the World Bank for their excellent work on the World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention, which certainly provided a chilling reminder that road traffic injuries were “a major but neglected public-health challenge that required concerted efforts for effective and sustainable prevention”.  The report also clearly illustrated that the developing countries possessed limited capacity to implement the necessary measures in order to enhance road safety within their borders.  There was certainly no dearth of commitment or effort to increase awareness within government and society in those countries.  There was an urgent need for greater international cooperation towards providing support and assistance to enable developing countries to improve their capacity to deal with the problem.  The building of partnerships at all levels should be encouraged.

His Government paid serious attention to the problem of road traffic deaths and injuries, he continued.  The number of deaths per 10,000 vehicles had decreased from 8.2 in 1996 to 4.9 in 2003.  The National Road Safety Council of Malaysia had set a target of reducing fatalities to a ratio of fewer than 3 deaths per 10,000 registered vehicles by 2010.  The Government’s other efforts included a comprehensive review of the road and highway standards, a traffic safety and awareness programme and measures to meet the needs of vulnerable road users, such as bicyclists, pedestrians and school children.  By increasing the legal riding age from 16 to 18 years, Malaysia had significantly reduced the number of motorcycle crashes.  The country was also involved in the Global Road Safety Partnership under the aegis of the World Bank and several regional initiatives, including the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Land Transport and Safety Committee.

SAEED H.S. AL-JOMAE (Saudi Arabia) said that awareness on the part of governments and non-governmental organizations regarding the seriousness of road safety only represented an initial step in the process.  All actors had to have more favourable conditions to address the problem of road safety accidents.  The solution to the problem of road accidents required strong political will and collective responsibility.

Saudi Arabia had a network of roads planned according to the most modern criteria of road safety, he said.  His country also had adopted a number of measures, including mandatory safety belts and systematic vehicle inspection.  Symposia were regularly organized to make young people aware of road safety issues.  He added that the report before the Assembly could serve as a basis to see what remained to be done.

ANDERS MILTON, Special Representative of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and President of the Swedish Red Cross, said cooperation between government and community-based organizations was a critical precondition for the success of road safety campaigns.  Citing examples in many countries where the dialogue with government, at all levels, was working effectively, he noted that in order to succeed, local level partnerships needed the support of partners at the multilateral level so that they were properly recognized and equipped.

He said the Global Road Safety Partnership, hosted by the IFRC at its Geneva secretariat, was an active global partnership that involved business, civil society and governments dedicated to the improvement of road safety in transitional and developing countries.  It built local partnerships between those three sectors in selected countries, to stimulate the sharing of information and experience; bring forward policies and actions and broker projects aimed at the effective and sustainable reduction of road deaths and injuries.

The Partnership was an effective mechanism for delivery of the road safety expertise needed to tackle the road safety crisis as it recognized that the crisis was not just a problem for the transport ministries of Member States, he said.  Death and injury on the roads was a social and public-health issue that affected all parts of society, and one that all parts of society should address.  The IFRC was strongly supportive of the recommendations of the joint World Health Organization/World Bank World Report published last week and backed the call for the identification of a coordinating body to facilitate and coordinate activities promoting road safety in the United Nations and with multilateral agencies.

The Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), CAROL BELLAMY, said that today’s meeting dramatized the conclusion that the rising rate of road traffic injuries was, in fact, a public-health crisis of far-reaching proportions -– one that could undercut the child rights agenda reflected in the Millennium Development Goals, as well as the World Fit for Children blueprint approved at the landmark special session on children two years ago.

The World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention showed that traffic accidents were well on their way to becoming the third leading cause of global death and disability by the year 2020 -– ahead of malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.  In some parts of Asia, traffic accidents had already emerged as a leading cause of child mortality, neutralizing hard-won gains in the fight against such preventable childhood ailments as pneumonia, measles and diarrhoea.  Thousands of people a day were killed in traffic accidents –- more than a million in the year 2000, with over 10 million injured, the vast majority of them in developing countries.  But there was an element of hope:  traffic injuries were both preventable and treatable.

The solutions involved a range of activities that could engage the entire United Nations system, she said.  Those included such measures as improvements in road infrastructure, development of safer vehicles, stricter law enforcement, expanded health and hospital services, urban and environmental planning, and programmes to promote public awareness and advocacy.  Experts referred to the mix as the three Es:  education, engineering and environment.

The UNICEF’s role began with education, she stressed.  For UNICEF, promoting road safety and injury prevention for children was a natural fit with its country programmes of cooperation in everything from early childhood development to adolescent support.  In Viet Nam, for example, childhood injury prevention activities had been integrated into the existing country programme, which included development of a school curriculum on child safety, and advocacy and mass media efforts to raise awareness concerning the importance of road traffic safety.

She said the key to preventing traffic fatalities and injuries would ultimately hinge on the emphatic exercise of political will at both the national and international levels.  Also of great importance were partnerships with the private sector, non-governmental organizations and civil society at every level.  Many countries were becoming engaged.  Next week in Bangkok, UNICEF and the Alliance for Safe Children (TASC) would convene a regional conference on child injury.

The UNICEF welcomed the resolution on road traffic safety, including its call for the establishment of a United Nations focal point to coordinate activities and to exchange information on good practices, she said.  At the same time, she called for explicit recognition of children and of the disproportionate burden that they bore as a result of road traffic injuries.

JEAN-LOUIS SARBIB, Senior Vice-President and Head of Network, Human Development, the World Bank, said that last week, on World Health Day 2004, WHO and the World Bank jointly had issued the World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention.  Among its findings was the fact that some 3,000 people died each day and about 75,000 were injured on account of poor road safety.  Some 80 per cent of road deaths occurred in developing countries which owned less than 20 per cent of road vehicles and cost those countries between some 1 and 2 per cent of their GNP, an amount equivalent to the foreign aid they received.

Global road fatalities were projected to increase by more than 65 per cent over the next 15 years, he said.  Fatalities were likely to increase by more than 80 per cent in low- and middle-income countries while decreasing by more than 30 per cent in high-income countries.  Quick, concerted, and purposeful action could reverse those unacceptable trends.  The costs of inaction were too huge to ignore.  The United Nations provided a unique platform to consider the issues, and it must act with a sense of urgency.

Historically, a “blame the victim” approach to managing road safety performance had been actively promoted, he said.  The vision had shifted to the building and operation of a more forgiving road transport system, able to absorb human errors in a way that did not result in death or long-term loss of health.  Capacity-building would underpin future road safety efforts, and success would be determined by the effectiveness of measures taken at three levels, namely, building the capacity of countries to design and implement sustainable road safety strategies; building the capacity across the World Bank Group to align and coordinate sector strategies and operations with desired country outcomes; and building the capacity of the World Bank Group and its development partners to collaborate more effectively and harmonize efforts for greater road safety.

Over 2.5 million lives could be saved if the projected fatalities per vehicle could be reduced a further 30 per cent by 2020, which appeared to be a reasonable goal, he said.  Using the estimate of ratios between deaths, hospitalized injuries and minor injuries presented in the World Report, that would represent additional savings of 37.5 million hospitalizations and 175 million minor injuries.  Every life was precious and deserved to be protected on the roads.  Even with conservative targets for improved safety performance, many lives could be saved and injuries prevented.

Action on Draft

Before acting on the text, the Assembly Acting President noted several additional co-sponsors to the text, namely, Costa Rica, Fiji, France, Germany, Liechtenstein, Nepal, Nauru, Portugal, Qatar, Russian Federation, Senegal and Turkey.

The Assembly then adopted the draft resolution on improving global road safety (document A/58/L.60/Rev.1), without a vote.

* *** *

For information media. Not an official record.