FEEDBACK – On the road, in safety : a few take-aways from the 2017 African Forum on Road Safety – FASeR | November 27, 2017
Ougadougou, Burkina Faso, is the host city of the African Forum on Road Safety – FASeR, that took place this year between 25 and 28 October. By Blandine Bouniol, Deputy Director for Advocacy in Handicap International Federation. This was the third edition of this Forum organized by ICI-Santé (Initiatives Conseil International-Santé), a private consultancy firm, in […]
Ougadougou, Burkina Faso, is the host city of the African Forum on Road Safety – FASeR, that took place this year between 25 and 28 October.
By Blandine Bouniol, Deputy Director for Advocacy in Handicap International Federation.
This was the third edition of this Forum organized by ICI-Santé (Initiatives Conseil International-Santé), a private consultancy firm, in collaboration with the government of Burkina Faso. The Forum gathered more than 100 participants mainly from West Africa, all deeply committed to improving the safety of African roads, whether they are acting from within a governmental agency, a research institute, an awareness-raising organisation, or an NGO. Handicap International helped with the organization of the FASeR agenda, as part of the scientific committee, and contributed with inputs and the coordination of the final recommendations.
I was utterly impressed by the dedication, the well of experiences and innovative ideas that all panelists and participants have been sharing throughout the Forum. Road safety can be analysed from so many angles and literally connect to many aspects of people’s life. Yet, road safety has very low profile in public policy-making. As if there was a kind of implicit agreement that it is normal, acceptable that we die or get injured on the roads, that roads are necessarily dangerous.
Well, yes, there is a real danger, and that’s precisely why we need public policies: to build good quality roads and safe paths for all users, to put the right types of vehicles on them, to educate road users on how to behave safely, to define the fair sanctions to those who don’t play by the rules, etc…
Road unsafety is a plague – soon ranking in the top 5 of mortality causes if no adequate actions are taken. Every year, roads take away the lives of more than a 1, 2 million persons, more than half of them aged between 15 and 44. Road crashes cause premature death, physical disability and psychological distress. The consequences for victims, families and society in general are considerable.
Road crashes are not only a major cause of impairments and suffering, they also have serious financial consequences for those affected, especially in developing countries.
But there is no fate: it is possible to make roads safer and cut significantly the number of tragic casualties. We’ve seen it in Europe where the total number of fatalities in road traffic accidents decreased by 43 % between 2005 and 2015 amongst the 28 EU Member States. We’ve also seen it locally in some developing countries, like Vietnam, and Cambodia where HI-led public campaigns to wear helmets have saved thousands of lives.
At the FASeR, many panelists and participants emphasized the huge problem of the lack of reliable, accurate and comparable data on road crashes and their consequences, in many African countries. This is not helping policy-makers to take well-informed, culturally sensitive decisions.
Besides figures, quality analyses are of paramount importance. Many participants pointed the need to have a people-centered approach in road safety policy, as socio-cultural factors are key to understand and address road users’ risk behaviours. When social pressure is so high that it is still not accepted that a woman drives a man, even though this man is totally drunk; or when women prefer not wearing a helmet so not to mess up with their costly hairstyle… The policy answer is not in improving infrastructure safety standards but rather in education, incentives and sanctions.
Hiding the truth about the real situation in a given country, or manipulating figures, keep both citizens and policy-makers in the dark, and jeopardize the chances to take the most appropriate strategies and really improve the situation and mitigate risks. In this context, we should salute the efforts of WHO that produces the Global status report on road safety every two years. The fact that the figures provided in the report raise controversy is actually a good thing as this brings up the topic of road safety in the policy debate. This is what is desperately needed today!
The FASeR adds its contribution as it is extraordinary laboratory of ideas. For example, as a debate was going on about which of a carrot or a stick approach was best to address users’ behaviours, it was refreshing to hear from a lady participant that the answer may be in putting fewer vehicle users on the roads, and rather invest in public, collective transports. Indeed, many options must be considered.
I fully trust the vibrant representatives of civil society, victims associations, and research institutes that I’ve met in Ouagadougou to make resonate the message that road safety is possible. The precise recommendations that have been extracted from the different sessions of the FASeR represent valuable pointers for all stakeholders. Up to each of us to use them and voice them out. Handicap International will continue contributing to this effort through our field programmes and our public advocacy.
Blandine Bouniol is the Deputy Director for Advocacy in Handicap International Federation Advocacy and Institutional Relations Team, since March 2017. Blandine is specialized in global development policy, as she carried out advocacy work for CONCORD, the European Confederation of Development NGOs, and in the Caritas network. She also worked for the UNDP in Syria, and the French Embassy in Cambodia, mainly on governance-related programmes.
Today in Handicap International, based in Brussels, Blandine supervises the production of evidence for advocacy, internal communication and fundraising strategies. She also coordinates HI federal advocacy for inclusive development, and HI advocacy towards the European Union.
Blandine holds a Master degree in European studies from Sussex University in the UK and a Master degree in public law from Vaucluse university in France.