Death in developing countries: The role of road accidents
By Fiorenzo Conte (hat tip to Sophie Stevens for the input)
If one asks, what are the causes of mortality in developing countries, one (at least I used to) would think the majority is caused by infectious diseases. One would probably be right yet other causes of mortality and injury also play a significant role. This is the case of road accidents. How many people are killed or injured by road accidents?
“Road crashes kill 260,000 children a year, injure about 10 million and are the leading cause of death among 10-19 year olds.(BBC) Most accidents happen in developing countries with the lions share in South-East Asia and Africa.
“Traffic accidents account for more than a million deaths and 50 million injuries each year worldwide; children 5 to 14 are most at risk” here
Another important statistic is the rate of fatalities per vehicle:
“Perhaps the most telling statistic of all comes from the WBCSD Mobility Report (2004) which states that fatalities per vehicle in low income countries are 75 times the fatalities per vehicle in high income countries.” here
“Fatality rates in developing countries are 25-30 per 10,000 vehicles, compared to 1 to 2 per 10,000 vehicles in rich nations” (World Bank)
These statistics are particularly significant because this ratio (number of fatalities per vehicle) is set to increase as the country develops economically (yes, economic growth won’t do the job to reduce the death toll and yes economic growth can have some side effects). Why? The rate of economic growth usually outstrips the capacity of the state to adjust its infrastructure. So with “rapid urbanisation, increased transit traffic on corridor roads, and increased mobility leading to a rapid increase in inexperienced road users” road-accidents related deaths will increase. So what are governments in developing countries doing? Not much. Why? The WB expert Blyss explains here that the phenomenon is invisible as the insidious loss of lives is slow. Historic evidence shows that developed countries took 40 years to reduce the fatality rate to 1 per 10,000 vehicles. Will developing countries have to wait so long? Not necessarily. As Gerschenkron recognized a long time ago, the advantage of the late comers is to leap frog in the process of development. One does not have to go through all the phases of trial and error, one can just copy what worked. The assistance of developed countries to strengthen the capacity of DCs to make road safer would, according to the WB, shorten the learning curve.