Thursday, 27 April 2023 15:10

Rising to the Challenge: The UN Road Safety Fund in a Polycrises World

An aerial photograph of a busy roundabout in Lusaka Zambia. Credit: UNRSF.


GENEVA, Apr 27 (IPS) — Nneka Henry is Head of UN Road Safety FundCrises may be a centuries-old phenomenon, but so too is human resilience.



The high number of road deaths and life-changing injuries in the global south is a crisis that affects millions of people every year. In 2018 alone – the year that the UN Road Safety Fund was established – 1.3 million people died on the world’s roads, and another 50 million were injured or disabled.


These numbers are even more sobering against the backdrop of multiple global crises that range from the coronavirus pandemic to the climate emergency, the cost of living crisis to geopolitical conflicts. As daunting as the mounting crises facing the world may be, the millions of lives and livelihoods lost to road crashes has made the Fund as resolute as ever to continue to mobilize and coordinate effective responses to very real road safety needs.


Recognizing the world’s state of increasing complexities, the Fund has been meeting the global road safety challenge head-on. It has done this through a coordinated and multi-faceted approach that addresses the underlying cause of unsafe roads whilst also addressing interconnections with other global development crises.


As the only United Nations body solely dedicated to channelling resources and expertise to tackling the root cause of the crisis, preventing further loss of life is, and will always be, our ultimate goal.


How could it not be – considering that road traffic crashes take the lives of around 3,700 people each day; the equivalent of losing a large cruise ship of passengers at maximum capacity. Through annual Calls for Proposals, the Fund coordinates and finances projects that help ensure road safety is treated as the significant public health issue that it is.


In Brazil, our project partner, the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, worked with the Department of Transport to correct and improve speed control operations including with the use of portable equipment on all of the Pará State highways. The project resulted in a doubling breathalyzer tests to over 78,000 carried out in 2022 and contributed to decreasing the rate of traffic deaths by a third, down from 6.13 per 10,000 vehicles in 2021 to 4.13 in 2022.


Underpinning the Fund’s ability to effectively address the road safety crisis is our comparative advantage of encouraging international collaboration and cooperation through pooled financial resources and technical knowledge. The more financial and technical partners that participate in the Fund the more comprehensive our response has been, spanning road safety-related legislation, enforcement, education, use of technology and implementation of international regulations and standards.


In the case of West Africa – led by our project partners the UN Environment Programme and UN Economic Commission for Europe – the Fund collaborated on an initiative with the UN Economic Commission for Africa, FIA, and the International Motor Vehicles Inspection Committee.


This has supported the 15 ECOWAS members states to adopt and roll out a regionally-harmonized vehicle directive and technical inspection system, which sets a common standard to safeguard the safety and environmental-friendliness of used vehicles on West African roads. It is now helping to decrease the number of vehicles involved in fatal crashes due to technical defects by 50%, saving thousands of lives.


Recognizing the world’s state of increasing complexities, the Fund has been meeting the global road safety challenge head-on. It has done this through a coordinated and multi-faceted approach that addresses the underlying cause of unsafe roads whilst also addressing interconnections with other global development crises
Nneka Henry, Head of UN Road Safety Fund


Key to strengthening the Fund’s global outreach and engagement is our commitment to communicate clearly and effectively with the public, stakeholders, and decision-makers to ensure that everyone is up-to-date and engaged in the response efforts.


In addition to project planning information sessions which encourage knowledge exchange, and building synergies and complementary financing opportunities before projects are finalized; the Fund also delivers three main flagship events. These include the virtual Open Day for project partners to share project results, the launch of the Annual Impact Report, which takes place on the margins of the International Transport Forum Summit, and the Highlights Country Visit for stakeholders to deep dive into projects that the Fund is supporting.


As global citizens we are all facing a crossroads of crises. The Fund’s response has been to invest in supporting interconnections with other development priorities as a way to build resilience and preparedness for future crises.


Mindful of economic crises, the Fund’s investment in safe transport and road infrastructure is vital. This is what we have been doing in support of the Tanzanian government – with project partners the International Road Assessment Programme, International Road Federation and the UN Economic Commission for Africa.


This initiative has been helping to reduce traffic crashes that place a heavy additional economic burden on families, governments and employers – spanning medical expenses, lost income, and reduced productivity – all of which costs the global economy US$ 1.85 trillion each year.


Low- and middle-income countries devote considerable public personnel and other resources to the treatment and rehabilitation of people injured in road crashes. There is, therefore, a compelling need to reduce the road crash burden on national healthcare systems freeing up critical resources to address other pressing health issues.


Considering ongoing health crises, the Fund is investing in effective post-crash responses – a focus area for the 2023 Call for Proposals and an issue we address in countries like Bangladesh and Azerbaijan, which suffer high rates of road casualties.


Mitigating the effects of climate change, the Fund also invests in cleaner ways of moving safely, including through the Reclaiming the Streets project across Africa to prioritize safe walking and cycling lanes for pedestrians and cyclists who also happen to be our most vulnerable road users.


During these years of polycrises, the Fund has relied on the global solutions approach to rise to the global road safety challenge. And, this month, as the Fund celebrates five years, I challenge more nations, companies and individuals to invest in the only global response comprehensively addressing the root causes of poor national road safety systems across the world. Join us in our sustained effort and rise to meet the serious and interconnected challenges that is the global road safety crisis today.