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Political commitment needed to end the carnage on Ethiopia’s roads, says UN review

Road Safety Trust Fund in Ethiopia

According to national statistics, road traffic deaths in Ethiopia more than doubled between 2007 and 2018, rising from 2,161 to 4,597. Ethiopia loses 13 people per day, or one person every two hours, to road traffic crashes. Given the magnitude of the road safety challenge, which constitutes a major burden on the social, economic and health sectors, more attention needs to be channelled to appropriate interventions, according to the United Nations Road Safety Performance Review launched today.

The review, supported by the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Road Safety and conducted by the United Nations Economic Commissions for Africa (UNECA) and Europe (UNECE) at the request of the government, provides a holistic assessment of the country’s road safety situation and pinpoints concrete measures to save lives.

“With so many lives lost on the roads of Ethiopia, we cannot continue with business as usual. I call on the government to ensure the necessary political and financial commitment for safe mobility at the heart of its recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. The recommendations of this Road Safety Performance Review can guide these efforts, helping to halve road deaths and injuries as we enter a new Decade of Action for Road Safety (2021-2030),” said the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Road Safety, Mr. Jean Todt. “I urge the government to join and apply the priority UN Road Safety legal instruments and African Road Safety Charter, and address major risk factors by strengthening its legal framework, which must be properly enforced”, added Todt.

According to the review, unless decisive action is taken now, road crashes in the country are likely to increase significantly within the next decade. It is also likely that actual fatality figures in the country are larger than those nationally reported, given that data collection is paper based, leading to significant underreporting and misclassification of road traffic fatalities. The review recommends the establishment of an integrated crash database to support evidence-based policy interventions. A project financed by the World Bank should modernize the road crash data management system in the second half of 2021.

Road safety financing has also been identified as a key area for action. “I commend Ethiopia for being one of the few African countries that dedicate a share of their Road Funds to road safety. This is a step in the right direction, yet there is room for improvement as this currently stands at less than one percent of the fund in the case of Ethiopia. The private sector can also play an important role in financing road safety in the country, including through investments in vehicle inspection centres and upgrading roads to improve their safety ratings in line with recommended UN voluntary targets. While I commend the Government of Ethiopia for increasing the size of its road network from 26,550 km in 1997 to 126,773 in 2018, the doubling of traffic deaths in the country between 2007 and 2018 suggests that increased spending on the road sector of Ethiopia has to be accompanied by appropriate road safety measures,” said the UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary, Economic Commission for Africa, Dr. Vera Songwe.

Making infrastructure safer

The review highlights that from an infrastructure perspective, the concept of road safety is not systematically incorporated in all stages of the development and administration of road projects. Owing to their limited training, designers, builders and road asset managers have little knowledge of road safety. Currently, most roads in the country are two-way, two-lane roads with many substandard sections. This includes insufficient or non-existent street lighting, which is a major problem for pedestrian safety. The absence of traffic signage and road markings is also a serious concern. According to official figures, 79% of fatal crashes occurred on paved roads and only 19% on gravel and earth roads, whereas paved roads make up only 14% per cent of the road network.

Overall, passengers are the most vulnerable road users in Ethiopia, accounting for 52 per cent of road deaths in 2018. However, in urban areas pedestrians account for the majority of fatalities. Ensuring safe infrastructure for vulnerable road users is a priority area where the government is already taking action. For example, through the Addis Ababa Non-Motorized Transport (NMT) Strategy, a permanent bike network is planned on the Jemo–Lebu corridor, for which the UN Road Safety Fund is supporting technical review of the design. As well as helping to reach the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals target to halve road deaths and injuries (SDG 3.6), scaling up investment to ensure access to safe, sustainable and affordable transport for all by 2030 (SDG 11.2) can boost the country’s efforts to “build back better” from the COVID-19 crisis.

The review notes that Ethiopia has some regulatory basis for governing road safety and the transport sector in general, but which must be strengthened considerably. A key issue to be addressed is the weak  enforcement of the existing rules, regulations and laws, together with inconsistencies in application among the Regional States and administrative cities. This is due in part to the limited capacity of the National Road Safety Council (NRSC). To ensure better coordination, the review recommends the establishment of an autonomous Road Safety Lead Agency at the national level that reports to a high-level executive body, which must be allocated sufficient financial and human resources.

Implementing vehicle standards and inspections

Buses and commercial vehicles (trucks) were involved in nearly 65 per cent fatal crashes in the country in 2018. Used cars constitute over 85% of the vehicle fleet in Ethiopia, many of which are not equipped with basic safety features. The country does not apply restrictions on the age of vehicles that can be imported. The review suggests that the Government should improve legislation and implementation of laws and regulations on vehicle standards and periodic technical inspection, aligned with UN agreements.

The Review stresses that some progress has been made in providing road safety education, with awareness-raising campaigns initiated in 2017, but that more needs to be done to improve national coverage of the ongoing initiatives.

It highlights recommendations under 10 strategic Priority areas for immediate action, aligning with the 5 pillars of the Global Plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety as well as with the Global Framework Plan of Action for Road Safety.

The Minister of Transport, H.E. Dagmawit Moges, signified her government’s continued commitment to improving road safety stating that “the government is already implementing several recommendations of the performance review. For instance, the process of acceding to UN Road Safety Conventions and ratifying the African Road Safety Charter have been initiated; a strategy for enhanced financing of road safety is being developed; and the framework for the National Road Safety Commission, which is envisaged to be operational in 2021, has been developed. The Commission will strengthen the enforcement of existing rules, regulations, and laws and ensure consistency in their application across the country”. The Ministry of Transportation explained that Ethiopia has recently introduced changes in taxation of imported vehicles. In this regard, newer vehicles that meet the required UN safer standards would fall in lower tax brackets than older ones that do not meet these standards. Additionally, the Ministry has reported that the Federal Transport Authority has also initiated the installation of speed limiters in heavy and public transport vehicles.

“The Ministry of Transport is reviewing existing road safety related laws and regulation, which shall be updated in 2021. Road safety related training and educational programs have also commenced and are expected to enhance the technical skills of relevant stakeholders. At the national level, road safety sensitisation programmes are conducted regularly, and mass media is used for awareness campaigns,” concluded H.E. Dagmawit Moges.

The WHO Representative in Ethiopia, Dr. Boureima Hama Sambo, stated that road traffic deaths and injuries take a huge toll on families and communities, and place a large burden on health systems. Dr. Sambo added that the UN System in Ethiopia is committed to support the government in achieving the Sustainable Development Goal targets on road safety.

Countries: Ethiopia

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