Friday, 30 March 2012

Make roads safe for children, urges development NGO

Justin Forsyth at Save the Children's London headquarters
Justin Forsyth is Chief Executive of Save the Children, one of the world's leading development NGOs. He was previously the development adviser to UK Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown at 10 Downing Street and one of the architects of the Make Poverty History campaign. He recently spoke to us about road safety, Rio+20 and why the world needs to wake up to the scale of the road injury epidemic:

"At Save the Children we have thousands of children's groups, and I meet them when I travel around the world whether in Ethiopia or India or Liberia or recently even in Afghanistan. They are groups that sit down and talk about the challenges that they face in their community, and they often raise this issue about how unsafe it is to walk along the road to school, or to go and collect water. And this is an issue that they want to address. So we should listen to the children, and the world leaders meeting at the Rio+20 conference and at other big international meetings should take action.  Because the children know that this is a really dangerous issue for them and it really affects their well-being. It might mean that they get disabled or it might mean even that their lives are ended by some truck or car that is racing along a road when they are trying to get to school.

"We’ve made all of this progress in the last decade in cutting the number of children that die from things like pneumonia and diarrhoea and we’ve also had huge numbers of children going to school for the first time. But this will stall and we won’t continue to make progress unless we deal with this hidden problem, this hidden crisis, of children - often walking along roads to get to school or having to cross a busy road to go and fetch water, or just going to see their friends - being run over and disabled or even being killed. And the tragedy that so many children face because of this hidden crisis is just appalling.

 "I don’t think decision makers and politicians have really seen this as a problem because they haven’t seen the connection between roads being unsafe and achieving the big goals that they set. So you want to get all the world’s children into school but you also want them to get to school safely. Most children actually walk to school. Often they are in danger of being run over by a truck or their lives are going to be threatened by a drunk driver in a car. So we’ve got to make the route to school safe, and for children who go and collect water - and it’s mainly children and often girls, the poorest children, who go and collect the water from villages - we’ve got to make those journeys safe.

 "I think the Rio+20 Conference and other meetings coming up, whether it is G8 or G20, is an opportunity for world leaders to get to grips with this issue, this hidden problem, that has not really being addressed for many years, which will stall the progress that has been made to stop children from being killed from preventable illnesses, or get a chance to go to school. We set all of these goals in the world but this problem is really one that has been completely neglected.

"I think to get big change on any issue requires a combination of people organising at a grassroots level, at a national level and even at a global level. And I think the big push on this issue about making roads safe is so important that we need action at all of those different levels. We need to listen to the children themselves who want action on this issue. But we also then need politicians at a national level in the key countries where we do need to make roads safe, to listen and to take action. At the global level whether it is at the Rio+20 meeting or other big international meetings, we need to agree frameworks that then galvanise people at national level to take action. Save the Children and other organisations can play our part in helping push that along so that we get the action that is needed."

Justin Forsyth was interviewed by Richard Stanley on behalf of the Make Roads Safe campaign and the Road Safety Fund. This is an edited transcript.


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