Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Local group holds first conference on road safety awareness

Local group holds first conference on road safety awareness
By Nour Samaha
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: Road safety organization Kunhadi hosted its first awarness conference on Monday ahead of the first United Nations Global Road Safety week, which begins on Monday. Coordinated by Kunhadi founder Fady Gebrane, the conference brought the World Bank and the International for Automobile Federation (FIA) to Lebanon in an attempt to bring more attention to the issue of road safety and to make it a priority on the national and international agenda. "Lebanon alone registers around 600 road deaths per year and over 10,000 injured. Against this dismal background, the convening of such a meeting proves inevitable," said Gebrane, who established Kunhadi a year ago in memory of his son Hady, who died in a car accident. "Our assembly is composed of top experts and consultants who will intervene to stand witness to the road massacres and prove that something can indeed be achieved and must be to curb this global plague."

Presentations were given by World Bank road safety consultant Said Dahdah; the director of the FIA's "Make Roads Safe" global campaign, Rita Cuypers; and Bassam Anani, land transport expert at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia. "The issue of road safety is among the top 10 leading causes of mortality in the world, next to tuberculosis and malaria," said Dahdah. "But yet more money is invested in the other cases than this one." In November 2005 the World Bank announced the creation of the Global Road Safety Facility, the first worldwide funding mechanism for the prevention of traffic injuries. "The facility is aimed specifically at increasing funding and technical assistance to enable low and middle-income countries prevent road traffic accidents," Dahdah explained. "The World Bank has invested over $4 billion per annum in road projects."

Due to an increasing number of fatalities and injuries directly linked to road safety violations, the FIA has launched an international petition calling for the UN and the G8 to include road safety in their global development policies. "The G8 and the UN influence global priorities for development spending and humanitarian action," said Cuypers. "We need politicians to recognize the scale of the road safety epidemic and to prioritize practical action on road deaths." According to statistics provided by the FIA, traffic accidents kill 3,000 people, including 500 children, around the world every day. About 1.2 million people are killed and 50 million injured annually. More than 85 percent of these casualties occur in low- and middle- income countries. "We have the knowledge, so if we don't do anything about it, it is simply hypocritical," said Cuypers. "Road fatalities come at a human cost. It has both a personal and economic loss because those who die, especially in poor and middle-income countries, are likely to be contributing to both their family's survival and their country's economy." Through its campaign, the FIA is hoping that governments around the world will commit to a $300 million, 10-year global action plan aimed at improving road safety and awareness in developing countries. Anani emphasized the necessity of the campaign by demonstrating the dramatic increase in the number of vehicles in the Middle East. "In Syria in 2001 for example, there were 779,562 vehicles present. In 2006 that number had increased to 1,211,721," he said. "In the UAE, the number of vehicles is doubling every six years."

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