Accidents eat into GDP

Governments pay a very high price for not ensuring that road safety is a priority exercise for any country with chunks falling away from the gross domestic product.

02 May 2018 | Accidents

As the latest year-to-date crash statistics for Namibian roads show a decrease of nearly 35% in fatalities compared to last year for the same period, a World Bank study on the high costs of traffic accidents warns that road accidents are a developmental challenge that come with a steep price if not tackled urgently by a cross-section of stakeholders.

The World Bank study, titled 'The high toll of traffic injuries: Unacceptable and preventable', is a landmark study that took an in-depth look at both the potential economic benefits and aggregate social welfare gains in reducing road traffic injuries in low- and-middle income countries.

The study results for the transport sector “are humbling and underscore the responsibility the sector has towards the sustainable development agenda”, according to the publication.

It warns however that road traffic injury prevention is “not a transport challenge, it is a development challenge with strong impact on health, wellbeing and economic growth”.

The authors say that the results, for health planners and public health officials, “make it clear that road traffic injury prevention should be regarded as a key pillar of the health agenda.”

The study notes that overall, developing countries have made significant strides in reducing the proportion of communicable diseases, maternal deaths, and nutritional diseases, and are making strides in dealing with non-communicable diseases.

“However, the benefits linked to reducing road injuries are yet to be realised.”

The study outcomes indicate that road traffic injuries or deaths will not be reduced in a significant way “unless we bring a wide range of stakeholders around the same table”.

The report notes that achieving the developmental goals of halving road injuries or more, would not be a victory only for the transport sector, but “a significant milestone for global development, with far-reaching benefits for public health, wellbeing and economic growth.”

Looking better

According to the most recent statistics issued by the Motor Vehicle Accident (MVA) Fund, fatalities on Namibian roads between January and 15 April this year totalled 126, compared to 193 during the same period last year.

The total number of crashes for the period decreased by 15.9% this year, from 1 108 in 2017 to 932 this year. Injuries dropped by 15.5% for the same periods under review, from 1 744 to 1 473.

Findings from the World Bank study indicate that reducing road traffic injuries in half could translate into an additional 15% to 22% of GDP per capita income growth over 24 years for a country.

The study noted that failing to meet the UN Sustainable Development goal target to halve road deaths by 2020 “accrues to about two to three percentage points in unrealised per capita GDP growth for low- and middle-income countries.”

The publication warns that the impact on national income is only half the story.

“Aside from their direct impact on the national product of a country, road traffic injuries also cause individual and social welfare losses that cannot be ignored.”

The study warns that if the high number of road crashes are not reduced, taxpayers will fork out anywhere between 6% and 32% of the country's GDP to mitigate those effects.

The study calculated these percentages would apply over a period of 24 years.

A 2016 paper published by the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) on road crashes in Namibia cautioned similarly that the costs of the high rate of crash statistics “extend far beyond the families and communities of those directly affected and are ultimately borne by wider society and government.”

The LAC pointed out that hundreds of millions of Namibian dollars are spent each year in the aftermath of road accidents.

“The total figure has been estimated to equate to a staggering 3% of annual GDP.”

The LAC highlighted that both the public service and private sector is impacted and that the majority of road deaths affect individuals between the ages of 21 and 45.

Globally, an estimated 1.25 million people are killed on road's each year and between 20 million and 50 million are seriously injured.

Further, road traffic accidents are the single largest cause of death or long-term disability among people aged 15 to 19 years old and their impact is also considerable among working-age people.

JANA-MARI SMITH

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