Yangon forum to highlight road safety issues

04 February 2017
Yangon forum to highlight road safety issues
Cars queue on the road in downtown Yangon. Photo: Nyein Chan Naing/EPA

Yangon is set to host a Policy Dialogue on Road Safety including public awareness for safe and secured living at the UMFCCI on February 6.
Local and foreign experts will gather to discuss what can be done to improve road safety in Myanmar. The event is organized by ActionAid and the Mizzima Media Group.
In the following interview, Marc Fancy, Executive Director of the Prudence Foundation, and one of the participants at the forum, discusses the challenge of improving road safety and what his organization does to help.
What does the Prudence Foundation do to help with health and safety issues in Asia?
Prudence Foundation, the community investment arm of Prudential Plc in Asia, has been very active around health and safety issues since its inception in 2012. A key pillar of the Foundation is Disaster Risk Reduction, Recovery and Relief, and we run several programmes throughout Asia in this area. Some are with NGOs focusing on preparing schools and school children on disaster education, ensuring they have the appropriate knowledge, education and skills to prepare for the event of a natural disaster. We have also developed our own programme called SAFE STEPS which aims to help save lives by providing simple, easy-to-follow educational messages and advice on various lifesaving issues.
The first SAFE STEPS programme was launched in 2014 initially to address the issue of natural disasters, with world champion boxer and humanitarian, Manny Pacquiao, as Ambassador. National Geographic was brought in as a key partner and all messages were endorsed by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). Under the programme we develop and distribute public service videos, together with online and print materials, providing basic educational messages on ‘What to Do in Natural Disasters’ such as Earthquakes, Floods, Typhoons and Fire.  This first-of its-kind initiative is available in 10 languages and reaches across 24 countries in Asia and over 200 million people every day through our various partnerships.
Building upon the success of this initial programme, we then expanded the platform to look at other serious life threatening issues throughout the region and were shocked at what we discovered with regards to road safety.
Road accidents are the leading cause of death for 15 to 29 year olds globally, killing 1.3 million people every year and resulting in 500 children dying every day. Asia is the one of the most impacted regions accounting for over 50% of the global death toll caused by road accidents, according to the World Health Organisation.
The number of deaths caused by road accidents in Asia was an average of 700,000 per year, which is about 16 times greater than deaths caused by natural disasters in Asia (Natural Disasters: an average of 45,000 per year over the past 10 years, according to Statistical Yearbook for Asia and the Pacific 2014). So in March 2016 we launched SAFE STEPS Road Safety with actor and producer Ms Michelle Yeoh as our Ambassador, the Federation Internationale de L’Automobile (FIA) and Mr Jean Todt as an additional partner, and continued our partnerships with National Geographic and the IFRC.
How to you view the situation of road safety in Myanmar?
Road Safety is of utmost relevance to Myanmar. According to the WHO Road Safety Report, Myanmar has the second worse road traffic death rate in South East Asia, with an average of around 11.9 road deaths a day. There are many aspects to this, but the situation is obviously exacerbated by the rapid increase of vehicles on the road each year, new road users, bad habits and emerging infrastructure yet in place to accommodate such a rapid increase.
What would you say are the key challenges?
We are by no means Road Safety experts; however the challenges tend to be the same for many countries. The underlying message of our SAFE STEPS Road Safety campaign is ‘We all have a role in Road Safety, are you playing your Part?”. This was very intentional as everyone has something to contribute to help solve this burgeoning issue. It is a complex issue touching upon multiple components, from infrastructure investment, road and vehicle standards, licensing and training, education and awareness, and the appropriate enforcement of law to name but a few. However it is not just the government that can provide the solutions; drivers and pedestrians must also play their part.
What can the Myanmar government and local authorities do to improve road safety in Myanmar?
Hopefully develop a coordinate strategy and approach to this particular issue encompassing all of the key points addressed in the previous question and then implement it. Events like the policy dialogue on “Policy and public awareness for safe and secured living for people”, held on 6 February, where relevant stakeholders come together to discuss a holistic approach is important. Obviously infrastructure investment is key, ensuring solid roads that meet appropriate standards are built,  having appropriate traffic management systems in place is essential. Then the need to ensure that standards are enforced for road users such as education and awareness on the key issues around road safety, ensuring children are brought up and educated at a young age on road safety and safe road usage. Ensuring a formal license test structure is in place and the appropriate enforcement of the law is imposed. These are all key components to reducing the dangers and risks around road safety.
From your knowledge, are there NGOs working on road safety? What do they do?
Many NGOs are at the very forefront of the global effort to save lives on the roads: leading projects and campaigns, working with communities and government, and advocating road safety policies. They are a key component of the road safety equation, as they make road safety an issue that is personal, real, and in need of urgent attention Their various roles with differ with some focused on lobbying activities, advocating for road safety policies, and others focused on implementing road safety programmes and activities throughout the world. However all play a key role in reducing the impact road traffic fatalities and injuries have on society an ensuring the issue remains a key focus. There is a Global Alliance of Road Safety NGOs based out of Geneva who will be holding their annual forum in Malaysia this April in Malaysia. The purpose of this organisation is to coordinate various activities relating to enhancing road safety globally.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I am grateful that this important issue is being focused on in Myanmar. So much attention and funding goes towards so many other issues in the world, with road safety often neglected -even though it has such a major impact on our societies. I would like to thank the participants at the policy dialogue for their engagement and attention on this issue and finding solutions, as well as our partners ActionAid and Mizzima Media on raising awareness and driving for solutions for a safer Myanmar.