The HOnourable LESTER MICHAEL Henry
ON AGENDA ITEM 46:
31st MARCH, 2008
Permit me to convey greetings from our Prime Minister, the Honourable Bruce Golding, who was specially invited to address this august Assembly. He is unavoidably absent due to prior commitments. Please allow me also at the very outset, to express my appreciation for the privilege of addressing this 62nd Session of the General Assembly in my capacity as Minister with portfolio responsibility for transport, on a matter that we consider to be of significant national importance.
The Jamaican delegation welcomes the report (A/62/257) prepared by the World Health Organization in consultation with the regional commissions and other partners of the United Nations Road Safety Collaboration. Our support for the draft resolution (A/62/L.43) is reflected in our co-sponsorship of the text and is a signal of our desire for global road safety issues to be addressed with the further strengthening of international co-operation, taking into account the needs of developing countries.
In Jamaica the issue of road safety is given priority attention on our national agenda, and as such the Prime Minister has assumed the lead role as the Chair of the National Road Safety Council, a body with overarching responsibility for road safety matters in the country. This in itself demonstrates the seriousness of my government’s commitment to bring attention to this issue at the highest level. In this arrangement, the Government, the private sector and academia collaborate with the singular purpose of establishing measures aimed at enhancing road safety. We are convinced that without this political will, the problem will only exacerbate and spiral beyond control.
This multi-sectoral approach has resulted in the reduction of our fatality rate from road traffic injuries from a high of 17.8 per 100,000 of the population, to a low of 11.4 per 100,000 in 1999 - a situation which at that time compared favourably with many developed countries.
Unfortunately, our fatality rate has again climbed up to unacceptable levels, peaking at 15.6 per 100,000 in 2002. With a concerted effort, there was a further reduction to 12.1 in 2005.
Jamaica is of the view that stopping this epidemic will take more than any one country can grapple with, and so, at the regional level, we participate fully in the Latin American and Caribbean Road Safety Forum, a forum sustained by the Global Road Safety Forum, a non-governmental agency committed to advocacy and collaboration.
The Latin American and Caribbean Forum brings together government representatives from the respective transportation, health, law enforcement and education sectors, while mobilizing relevant regional and international organizations with a view towards greater collaboration in efforts to curtail, if not eliminate, the epidemic of death on our collective roadways.
Under the distinguished leadership of Costa Rica, the Forum is now in the final stages of developing a charter, which upon adoption, will serve as a signpost -- pun intended – for the guidance of the Regional Committee to fulfil its mandate within the framework of wider collaboration and co-operation to make roads safer for the people of Latin America and the Caribbean.
According to the World Health Organization, more than 85 per cent of all road traffic injuries occur in middle and low income countries, a fact that we cannot ignore. One notable consequence of this epidemic is what I would like to describe as a “stifling effect” which creates the imposition of a huge economic burden on developing economies, particularly small and vulnerable economies such as Jamaica’s, accounting for 1-2 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product. This figure, according to the WHO, is comparable with the total bilateral overseas aid contributed by the Industrial countries. And we are reliably informed by those who carry out research on the burden of road traffic injuries, that this staggering effect on GDP presents only half of the story, as that figure only represents lost productivity.
As part of the new political administration in Jamaica, which is busy with the task of constructing our first budget, we are painfully aware of the additional burden caused by the social and economic costs of the epidemic, especially the negative effects on the health sector, where in many middle and low income countries, road traffic injuries account for one half of the hospital bed occupancy of surgical wards. In such scenarios, the most affected are usually the poorer groups within the society, including many whose historical claims for just compensation are yet to be addressed.
The plight of children in all of this affects me deeply. Article 6 of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child, inter alia, articulates the imperative that “children have the right to live” and the necessity of “governments to ensure that children survive and develop healthily”.
The data is particularly startling, as it indicates that this right, especially in the middle and low income countries, is constantly under siege, as for our youth 10 to 24 years, road traffic injuries have become the number one cause of death. Daily, some 1,049 of our youth die from injuries sustained on the world’s road network. That, Mr. President, means a child perishes from a road accident anywhere between every one and three minutes worldwide.
If indeed governments are to ensure that children survive and develop healthily, leaders must admit that road traffic injuries are seriously challenging their ability to deliver on this essential right of the child and take the bold steps necessary to confront its lethal impact on our societies.
When set against the background of struggling economies, record high oil prices and subsequent rising food costs, the effects on the poor and needy present a major challenge for many governments across the world. The plight of the poor gets even more complicated, as those who are unable to afford automobiles are the ones most vulnerable on the roadways, especially in the middle and lower income countries. Hence, we have the situation where consistently for the past 20 years, pedestrians account for 33 per cent of all road fatalities in Jamaica, and the larger category of vulnerable road users, comprising pedestrians, pedal cyclists and motor cyclists, account for 66 per cent of all road fatalities. In many counties in the Latin American and the Caribbean region, pedestrians account for as much as 50 per cent of the road fatalities and the very limited funding available does not allow us the privilege to adequately plan for the road users at that level.
What makes this carnage on our roads even more challenging is that the lower and middle income countries that are least equipped to deal with this crisis, account for 90 per cent of road traffic injuries. This presents a serious impediment to our efforts to achieve sustainable development, and negatively impacts on our efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
Preliminary estimates indicate that Jamaica’s Accident Emergency Costs amounted to US$14 million in 2006. This represented 0.48 per cent of our GDP; 7.2 per cent of the budget allocated to hospitals; and, 0.33 per cent of our National Budget. This is an economic drain in our situation, where scarce resources would be better spent in areas of development. We need to actively seek therefore, to spend the dollar on preventative interventions, where it is an investment rather than an expense.
Of significant note too, is that this modern day plague is almost invisible. Very tragic yes, to those involved, with short-lived newsworthiness, while it silently undermines the overall quality of life. THIS SILENCE MUST BE BROKEN!
I close this presentation with three recommendations. The first one has emerged from the multi-sectoral collaboration which we have fostered in Jamaica, relating to the need to adopt standards for the design and manufacture of the vehicles which are imported. One of the great contributions towards reducing the rate of motor vehicle deaths in the highly developed countries has been the development of such standards. In Europe and the US, for example, government regulations require that vehicles protect passengers and other road users with:
· enhanced environmental performance standards
· front and side airbag impact protection,
· roll-over protection,
· three-point seat belts,
· and an increasing list of designs and devices that help passengers avoid crashes, as well as survive them when they do occur.
Unfortunately, many of the low and middle income countries — where the great majority of road traffic deaths occur — do not have the capacity to and cannot currently enforce such standards. In Jamaica, about 48 per cent of road fatalities involve motor vehicle occupants, many of them as passengers in vehicles that would not meet the minimum standards for the United States or the European Union. A truly global standard that all manufacturers are obliged to comply with would go a long way toward protecting the citizens of countries like Jamaica, where this standard could be legally adopted and used to screen vehicles imported to our shores. Jamaica has had a costly experience in terms of serious injuries and fatalities from the importation of defective used vehicles, a situation that needs to be quickly and seriously remedied. I therefore call for the establishment of a Global Motor Vehicle Safety Standard that shall establish the minimum standard for vehicles manufactured anywhere in the world, and hope that the UN Global Ministerial Conference will address this.
Secondly, I make an urgent plea for Jamaica and other countries in the region to have easier access to the International Road Assessment Programme for risk mapping and tracking of the safety performance of the road network. This assessment will provide us with the protocols for measuring risk, setting benchmarks and utilising a star rating which gives a road protection score. I am particularly interested in this initiative, as it relates directly to my ministerial portfolio. I look forward to the day when we can strengthen our safety management capacity in conformity with agreed principles and best practices, of course, with the required assistance.
Jamaica is working to get out of the mindset of constructing roads without due attention to the safe use of the facilities. Accordingly, we are numbered among the nations that are signatory to the Make Roads Safe Petition, and as such, the previous Prime Minister was the first signatory, and our current Prime Minister has affixed his since assuming office.
Thirdly, and finally, our experience at the national and regional levels has taught us the critical importance of employing multi-sectoral collaboration in addressing this epidemic of road traffic injuries. Dire projections have been made about the devastation that will happen if we do not take action quickly and act together, to fight this modern day scourge.
The proposal for a UN Global Ministerial Conference then, provides the perfect opportunity for the International Community to mobilise the leaders in the Transport sector. It will also serve to focus our minds on practical solutions that can make a lasting difference and create the opportunity for enhanced leadership, which can assist in reducing the devastation now taking place in the developing world. This is against the background that the chilling data that every one to three minutes a child dies from a road accident is not just information found in a research document, but the reality faced by countless families and communities.
I therefore, on behalf of the Prime Minster and people of Jamaica, express our full support for the resolution to be adopted this morning, calling for the first ever UN Ministerial Conference on Road Safety, and hope that it will receive overwhelming endorsement from the international community.
I look forward to the day when the nations of this planet can turn the tide and reap the benefits of safer travel on our roadways. Our concerted actions today with the adoption of this resolution, will serve to further solidify a global partnership of collaboration and co-operation, which I know will overcome all impediments to achieving that endeavour.
I thank you, Mr. President.