By Sophie Ford and Patrick Fuller
As the decade for action on road safety get’s underway, youth volunteers at Cruz Vermelha de Timor Leste (Red Cross Society of Timor Leste) have joined a growing number of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Asia who are treating road traffic accidents as one of the most important humanitarian issues impacting the region.
Timor Leste Red Cross has recently launched a road safety campaign which they plan to roll out across the country in 2011 – reflecting the growing concern within the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) that more needs to be done to reduce the increasing number of deaths and injuries resulting from road traffic accidents.
According to Terhi Heinasmaki, the IFRC’s health coordinator for Asia Pacific, deaths and serious injuries are unacceptably high. “The reality is that globally, road traffic accidents are the leading cause of death in youth and by 2020 will be the third highest cause of disabilities.”
The statistics in the developing world speak for themselves. Globally 1.2 million people die each year and as many as 50 million are injured as a result of road traffic accidents – of these, over 75% of deaths occur in poor and middle income countries. Over the next 15 years this number could increase to 2.4 million people. Cambodia has seen a four-fold increase since 2000 with 1,850 deaths recorded in 2010. Last year Vietnam recorded 11,500 deaths while an average of 20,500 are killed each year on Indonesia’s roads.
Timor Leste has undergone rapid motorization with the number of cars and motorbikes on the roads in Dili, the capital city, doubling in just three years. Last year there were more than 2,500 accidents on Timor Leste’s roads and the problem appears to be getting worse every day.
Cornelio de Deus Gomes, health coordinator for Timor Leste Red Cross believes that for a country with a population of just over one million the rising incidence in accidents is a concern. “The issue of road safety is becoming increasingly important in Timor Leste,” he says. “We need to do more to educate the community on how to follow traffic regulations so we can prevent injuries and deaths. We particularly need to focus on educating young people.”
The Red Cross Youth team is doing just that – working with volunteers to design a new campaign which aims to educate young drivers about preventing road accidents, injuries and deaths. The campaign started in the capital Dili, where youth volunteers are working in close cooperation with Dili’s Traffic police.
Volunteers take to the streets armed with stop signs, megaphones and information sheets. Stationed at strategic locations around the city they distribute information to drivers and pedestrians on the importance of respecting the city’s new zebra crossings.
The Youth Department is planning to run a series of activities in 2011 including a music competition, the production of a new road safety handbook and the staging of a public exhibition in Dili to celebrate the UN Decade of Road Safety.
Other Red Cross National Societies in Asia also recognise the importance of engaging young people in road safety. Since 2005, the Cambodia Red Cross (CRC) has enlisted thousands of volunteers to go out on the streets to promote road safety. 2,000 Red Cross Youth are now actively involved in the project and their goal is to have 100% of the country’s motorcycle users wearing safety helmets.
“Targeting youth is vital as they can bring about behavioural change amongst their peers and parents. At the same time a more robust approach towards enforcing road traffic laws at a national level is needed to make sure that adults road users respect the law and act more responsibly,” says Terhi Heinasmaki.
The IFRC hosts the Global Road Safety Partnership (GRSP) which is dedicated to the sustainable reduction of road crash deaths and injuries in low and middle income countries.