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OPINION

Doing the Math for Egypt’s Fatal Roads

Hartwig Schafer

Ahram Online

May 7, 2014

The recent news reports of 48 deaths from traffic accidents are bringing back sad memories. Last year, as my wife and I were visiting Luxor, I received a call from a colleague in Washington. His brother and family had been in a tragic car accident. His brother, niece and driver had died at the scene of the accident on the road between Aswan and Abu Simbel. A truck was on the wrong side of the road. We rushed form Luxor to Aswan to see how we could help the mother and son who had been taken to the Aswan hospital.  By the time we made it to Aswan, the mother had passed away and all we could do was take care of the 16 year old son until his family came to take him home. I am sure many Egyptians have had similar tragic experiences with loved ones being injured or even killed in traffic accidents. 

Everybody who has walked on the streets in Cairo will understand the tragic statistics. About 12.000 people killed on average each year and about 150.000 were injured from 2008-2012. And traffic accidents are the main cause of death in the country. Of course Egypt is not alone. Every 30 seconds someone, somewhere in the world, dies in a road crash. 

The human and emotional toll is high, and so is the economic cost. It is estimated that the road safety crisis costs Egypt $ 7 billion, the same as 3.2% of GDP. Imagine what can be done with $ 7 billion in a country where 15% of the population lives on less than $ 2 per day. 

In the World Bank, we are committed to help Egypt reduce the fatalities for the sake of all the families like my colleague's - and to rather spend that $ 7 billion to improve the lives of people. 

Several things could be done urgently to change this.

  • Establish a well-funded government agency specifically accountable for the reduction of road traffic fatalities and injuries in Egypt.
  • Increase funding for road maintenance- the required funding for road maintenance in Egypt is estimated around $ 700 million per year, yet only $ 70 million is available.  In other words, every km of Egyptian road network will only be maintained every 33 years. Every $ 1 dollar spent now on road maintenance will save Egypt $5 dollar in 5 years. Do the math, and it is clear that investing in road maintenance should not only be a priority, but is good for the economy. Egypt should have a plan to scale up the funding for road maintenance using sources like fuel taxes, vehicle fees, traffic fines, road user's charges and others.  
  • Eliminate high risk road sections - with our partners the Global Road Safety Facility and the Bloomberg Philanthropies-the Road Safety Initiative* was launched with the aim of reducing the number of fatalities and serious injuries on  2,200 km of high risk roads by at least 25%. The road between Aswan and Abu Simbel is one of this network of roads which has been surveyed using state-of-the art equipment, it will soon be assigned a 1 to 5 Star Rating, 1 for the least safe and 5 for the safest. People driving on these roads will be able to access maps showing these ratings so they can plan their trips safely. The initiative will not stop here, it  will propose a multi-year road improvement plan that will eliminate those 1 and 2 Star sections and save lives .
  • Railway crossings are prone to tragic – but avoidable - accidents. The World Bank Group and partners are investing $ 600 million in rehabilitating tracks, signaling and improving  level crossings.
  • The World Bank Group’s goals are to reduce poverty and boost shared prosperity, which in Egypt also means preventing road fatalities, and freeing up resources to better the lives of the Egyptian people. 

The writer is the World Bank's Country Director for Egypt, Yemen and Djibouti, based in Cairo.

Note: Numbers are World Bank Group estimates, WHO estimates and as reported from Al-Ahram newspaper.