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BW Businessworld

We Invested $259 Million Since 2007 To Reduce Road Fatalities: Kelly Larson, Bloomberg Philanthropies

Globally, Bloomberg Philanthropies has invested $259 million since 2007 to implement interventions that have been proven to reduce road traffic fatalities and injuries in low- and middle-income cities and countries, including Mumbai and India.

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Road crashes kill more than 1.25 million people a year worldwide and injure more than 50 million, with deaths disproportionately taking place in low- to middle-income countries. 

Bloomberg Philanthropies, convened in Mumbai, to address one of the world’s leading causes of preventable death. Mumbai has been chosen as one of the 10 cities across the globe for the Bloomberg Philanthropies Initiative on Global Road Safety conference.

Along with their partners like WHO, World Bank and others, they will be supporting the Mumbai Government, BEST and MCGM to ensure road safety and public health – addressing the need of the hour. 

In an exclusive interview with BW Businessworld, Kelly Larson, Director - road safety and drowning prevention programs at Bloomberg Philanthropies and Dr Kelly Henning who leads the Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Health program addressed some of the pertinent questions related to the conference.

Edited Excerpts:

What investments have been made so far by Bloomberg Philanthropies to reduce road traffic fatalities in low and middle-income countries?

Larson: Bloomberg Philanthropies has invested $259 million since 2007 to implement interventions that have been proven to reduce road traffic fatalities and injuries in low- and middle-income cities and countries. 

Interventions include: enhanced police enforcement and mass media campaigns to increase seat-belt and helmet use and reduce speed and drinking and driving; safe sustainable urban transport; improved road infrastructure; and strengthening data collection and analysis. These interventions are especially crucial because 90 percent of an estimated 1.3 million traffic-related deaths each year occur in low- and middle- income countries.

As a part of our initiative, our partners have also made investments leading to further progress. Since Bloomberg Philanthropies began funding proven road safety interventions, governments have committed $282 million towards infrastructure improvements that will make roads safer.

What is the commitment of Bloomberg Philanthropies in India, specifically Mumbai to reduce road traffic crashes, fatalities and injuries? What was the rationale behind choosing Mumbai?

Larson: Globally, Bloomberg Philanthropies has invested $259 million since 2007 to implement interventions that have been proven to reduce road traffic fatalities and injuries in low- and middle-income cities and countries, including Mumbai and India.

India has some of the biggest and fastest-growing cities in the world and also one of the highest road related death tolls in the world - 206,000 people die by road crashes each year according to World Health Organization estimates. This made India a logical place to tackle road safety challenges. 

Both India and Mumbai have been integral in our efforts to make progress in targeted regions. In 2010, we brought together international partners to create the Initiative for Global Road Safety that targeted ten countries, including India In 2015, we re-oriented our initiative and began implementing evidence-based interventions in a global network of 10 cities, including Mumbai, as well as strengthening road safety legislation in five targeted countries, including India, and crash testing new vehicles in three world regions, including India.

What has been the progress so far in Mumbai? How has Bloomberg Philanthropies collaborated with the government, MCGM and BEST?

Larson: We witnessed first-hand the progress and learnings from design initiatives in Mumbai on field visits during last week’s Initiative for Global Road Safety meeting. On June 6th, it was announced that our partners and Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation have committed to make 40 junctions in Mumbai safer for pedestrians over the next few months. 

Bloomberg Philanthropies and partners previously held meetings with the MCGM Chief Engineer, Manhohar Pawar, and the Municipal Commissioner, Mr. Ajoy Mehta to discuss progress and implementation of recommendations on the LBS Road. The first phase of implementation is an area of 4.5 km.

What are the future plans to improve road safety in Mumbai?

Larson: We hope that last week’s meeting with global road safety experts will spur new ideas for Mumbai based on successful initiatives adapted in other parts of the world. Bloomberg Philanthropies and partners will also be inspecting 4-5 major black spots in the city and providing design recommendations.

What was the need for the Motor Vehicles Act which was passed by the Lower House of Parliament?

Larson: Many of the world’s countries lack adequate laws to counter the growing rates of traffic deaths and injuries. The Motor Vehicle (Amendment) Bill is a great step by the Government of India to protect citizens and save lives. 

The MVA was last updated in 1988, and many updates are needed to make the bill more effective at promoting road safety – for example increasing fines for breaking traffic rules so that the fines have a deterrence effect, and updating licensing to avoid duplication of driver’s licenses. 

The bill also includes protections for bystanders who provide help to crash victims, which was passed in a Supreme Court ruling in March 2016 giving “force of law” to the guidelines for the protection of Good Samaritans issued by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways.

What has been Michael Bloomberg’s commitment to highlight the burden of NCDs and injuries globally, as the WHO Global Ambassador for Non-communicable diseases?

Henning: In August 2016, Michael Bloomberg became the Global Ambassador for Noncommunicable Diseases, with the charge to work with national and local leaders around the world to highlight the burden of NCDs and injuries and pursue proven, data-driven interventions to save lives and make communities healthier and safer. Bloomberg has a long record of tackling NCDs and injuries as the mayor of New York City and through Bloomberg Philanthropies, which has been battling NCDs since 2007.

As part of his role as WHO Ambassador, last month Michael Bloomberg launched the Partnership for Healthy Cities (PHC), a global network of 40 cities formed to reduce NCDs and injuries with proven policies to advance health and strengthen economies. We are thrilled that Mumbai is part of the PHC group of cities and will continue its efforts to improve the health of its citizens.

What was the rationale behind hosting the Road Safety conference?

Henning: The annual Bloomberg Philanthropies Initiative for Global Road Safety meeting is an opportunity to convene a global network of cities and countries committed to improving road safety to share best practices from other regions and develop ideas for future interventions and programs. 

At this year’s meeting in Mumbai, Government officials, non-governmental stakeholders, law enforcement officers, and other partners convened to share best practices and learnings since last year’s meeting in Bangkok, Thailand. We had over 150 participants from 17 countries participate in this year’s meeting and there was an optional “walking tour” of Mumbai to visit intersections that need design treatments to make the crossing safer for pedestrians and bicyclists.