BD can show world its commitment for SDGs with serious efforts

The United Nations (UN) has long campaigned for better road safety across the world and traffic accidents in Bangladesh are one of the major killers of young people. According to a World Health Organisation report there are more than 20,000 road fatalities every year in Bangladesh.

Recently, the teens of Bangladesh have written a new chapter for the histories of the democratic struggle of the country. The government accepted their demands to fix the all-encompassing problems that the transport sector of the country is facing.

Dhaka Courier talked to Ratanawadee Hemniti Winther who started working at the Danish Ministry of Transport in Copenhagen on road safety issue 18 years ago, on various aspects of road safety issues.

Bangladesh, she said, needs to address road safety issues seriously and take this as an opportunity to show the world considering the issue is already there in Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

"Bangladesh is doing very well economically. You have a very, very stable economic growth. It comes with more roads, more vehicles and more motorbikes. So, road safety issues have to be addressed very seriously," said Ratanawadee, Chairperson of Asia Injury Prevention (AIP) Foundation, Thailand.

If Bangladesh cannot manage that growing number of roads, vehicles and motorbikes, the number of deaths and injuries on roads will increase very fast, said the expert who started working on road safety issues at the Danish Ministry of Transport in Copenhagen 18 years ago.

To that end, Ratanawadee said, Bangladesh should look at other developed and developing countries and some developing countries have introduced child-helmet and arrangement for vulnerable groups.

"I'm not here to impose anything. I think Bangladesh has been doing very well with SDGs. This is an opportunity for Bangladesh to show the world as it has committed to the international community to achieve the global goals," she said.

The expert said road safety issues have to be incorporated as a subject in curriculum. "The Ministry of Education has a role and need to look it seriously."

Ratanawadee, who has been working in developing countries particularly in the Southeast Asia Region to build capacity of road safety stakeholders, said it better to advocate with the young people as they can even make their seniors and parents accountable for complying with road safety issues.

"Whatever we do, it must have advocacy flavour for improvement," said the expert who has been joining advocacy and campaign efforts on the global level.

Talking about the outcome of students' movement on road safety, she said it is a good opportunity for the government to be more proactive and to do better for everyone.

"Road safety is a shared responsibility," the expert said adding that strong enforcement of laws has to be there in place.

According to credible study worldwide, she said, heavy penalty is not the only answer and the key is the enforcement which has to be there on a regular basis.

Ratanawadee said problems are mostly occurring in developing countries and it is really a big concern.

She said Bangladesh could improve its data collection process to deal with the problem in a better way.

"Road crash investigation is a must to know what is really happening. Proper investigation can help government know what it should do," she said adding that the government should look at coordinating efforts and it is responsibility of everyone.

On students' movement on road safety issue, she said it was not just a demand but it was sort of innocent and organic expression of children on their rights.

"It is something we have to look at with care, empathy. We should not politicize their innocent demands. They want to be safe and they have rights to be safe," she said.

Ratanawadee also laid emphasis on mandatory use of school buses and transport facilities for various vulnerable groups.

After a speeding bus struck and killed two students in the capital recently, their peers began to pour into the streets to demand justice for over a week.

Thousands of students, dressed in school and college uniforms, virtually shut down the capital, blocking roads and preventing transit through much of the city.

According to Hanoi-based AIP Foundation, half of lives lost on the world's roads are motorcyclists, cyclists, and pedestrians.

Some 92 percent of road deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries and the road injury will be the 7th leading cause of death by 2030 if there is no action, data shows.

According to a study conducted by the Accident Research Centre (ARC) of BUET (Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology), road accidents claim 12,000 lives on average annually and lead to about 35,000 injuries.

World Bank statistics show that the annual fatality rate from road accidents is found to be 85.6 deaths per 10,000 vehicles, while roads in Bangladesh have become deadly.

Two students of Shaheed Ramij Uddin Cantonment College were killed and 12 others injured as a bus ploughed through a crowd waiting for transports on Airport Road near Radisson Hotel in the capital on July 29. Following the accident, students came down on the roads and demonstrated for over a week seeking justice and safety on the roads.

On August 10, a bus of New Vision Paribahan hit Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan's car in front of NICVD around 8:45pm when he was coming out of the institute after visiting a patient. The minister was unhurt but the rear side of the vehicle got damaged. Police later detained the driver and helper of the bus.

The incident took place at a time when the Traffic Week, an annual programme of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police aiming to raise awareness and bring discipline in road transport, is underway. It was inaugurated by the home minister on August 4.

Home Minister Khan said road accident is the leading cause of deaths in the country rather than cancer or kidney diseases.

"Every year, around 6,000 small or big road accidents take place in the country where 3,000-3,500 people lose their lives. Various measures, including widening of roads, have been taken to curb road accidents," he said.

The home minister also acknowledged that most vehicles plying the streets in the capital are unfit and drivers of these vehicles have no licence. He also lamented that no one -- passerby, passenger and driver -- obeys traffic rules.

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