As the Myanmar authorities look to improving safety on the roads, one foreign expert stresses the importance of collecting good data and having effective analysis in order to assess the problem and look to solutions.
Roy Ben Eliezer is a public health expert and former regional director in Israel’s transport ministry. In 2011, he established the Interdisciplinary Center for Road Safety (ICRS) with a mission of creating a safe driving culture in Myanmar and the wider region. The ICRS has since delivered training and educational programmes on road safety to members of government, the traffic police, and NGOs, as well as to schools and communities.
Mr Eliezer recently attended a Policy Forum on Road Safety held by ActionAid and Mizzima Media Group in Yangon.
In the following interview, Mr Eliezer brings his expertise to analyse proposals to improve safety on the roads in Myanmar.
What do you think are the most important steps towards improving road safety in Myanmar?
I strongly believe that having a good data collection and analysis mechanism in place would serve a clear vision and the work plans that need to be implemented. Those action plans must be supported with reliable statistics related to accidents, fatalities and injuries, in an evidence-based approach.
I feel that, although there is an awakening towards road safety in Myanmar among many stakeholders and government agencies, well organized coordination, along with round table-discussions that invite all sorts of stakeholders to the table, would have greater influence and benefits for all.
What else is being done, across government and in civil society?
The government has recently revised the Yangon Bus System. I think it is a bold step towards change and meeting international standards. Road infrastructure improvements also continue to take place, which is very important. A recent change in the law has been undertaken with regards to seat belts—also an important step.
As for civil society, I would like to see more initiatives like the road safety policy dialogue [hosted in Yangon on February 6 by ActionAid and Mizzima Media Group]. This is an extremely important platform, where many participants and the public can voice their opinions and share their concerns. I am sure that these concerns will find their way both to the local and the central government.
Has your work been part of a broader movement?
There are global initiatives and, I think, an increase in awareness with regards to the epidemic of death and injuries caused by road accidents. Asia is one of the regions with the highest number of death and injuries; individual countries understand the need to invest in transport systems to boost their economies, but that this has to go hand-in-hand with increasing road safety. This realization can be seen through countries’ [commitments] to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 2015-2030, which include specific goals and indicators relating to road safety.
I think that, in Myanmar, we are in the early days of getting on board with this. That’s why the dialogue initiative is really important. We need to see more actors coming on board.
Is road safety being taken more seriously in top government circles in Myanmar?
The answer is, yes. I met recently with some senior members of the central government and feel there is a genuine,solid state of mind towards bringing change to the situation. Of course, it will not happen quickly—these things take time—however, I was happy to learn that this issue is now being taken much more seriously.