Elhadj As Sy International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Secretary General
Date: Wednesday, 12 June, 2019
Event: Global Road Safety Partnership 20th anniversary event
Location: Geneva, Switzerland

Thank you colleagues and friends – I’m delighted to welcome you here at the IFRC Secretariat. This is our home, and it’s the home of the Global Road Safety Partnership for as long as it exists.

Our partnership has stood the test of time. And we have come together to deal with what matters to all of us – people’s lives, health, wellbeing. I’m very struck by the figures: 1.35 million road traffic deaths every year, and 50 million people injured. But then there are also the many millions living with the invisible wounds, because they witnessed or were actually part of events which killed others. Some of them even feel guilty to survive.

But roads are not about death and injury. Roads connect us and bring us together. They connect us economically – giving us access to people, to markets, to livelihoods. They connect us socially: we are human beings and social beings who need to connect to each other and interact. And roads also connect us from a humanitarian perspective – that’s why we’re so keen to partner.

So the road is not always a problem – it’s also a solution in many ways. Our global and collective task is to make sure that roads are seen as the solution not the problem.

And if roads aren’t managed properly then we do have a problem, and that why we have these sobering numbers. Roads can reveal dysfunctionalities. It becomes a governance crisis when we have the roads, the cars, the laws, the rules … but if they are not properly governed, applied and enforced, then they will never work. We have all the measures that are taken from a policy point of view: but if they are not applied properly then you see the increasing numbers of shocks and hazards that are keeping us busy, as we try and minimise the devastating impacts that we are seeing.

It’s quite sobering to see that in the 5-29 age-group, road crashes have become the biggest cause of mortality. That’s unacceptable, because these are deaths that we can prevent.

We’re not all equal in the face of this situation. There’s a big paradox there. Sometimes it’s in the places where you have less cars and less roads that you have the greatest number of fatalities caused by road accidents. Again this points to the governance issue I was talking about, and to whether or not the different perspectives and dimensions are properly coming together in road management.

That’s why I welcome partnership, because if it’s a multidimensional issue then it requires a multidimensional response. We need partners coming together and bringing their different perspectives, and working together towards the same goal.

So we’re extremely proud to be part of this movement, and very privileged to host this partnership. It went back 20 years ago because I think it was in 1998 that one of our World Disasters Reports focussed on road safety, and then a year later the partnership was created, and we have been together ever since. So we’ve travelled a long way, but there is much further to go.

If we close our eyes, we think that behind every event there’s a human being. Behind every unit, there’s a story. A father or mother who leaves home in the morning and doesn’t come back in the evening. Or a missing child whose dreams and future is broken. That’s why this is a humanitarian issue for us.

And it’s quite sobering for us because we work in places that are not normal places. We work in disaster zones and in armed conflict areas, and when I look at my weekly security reports I see – even in conflict zones, earthquakes areas, flood zones – that I lose more staff due to road accidents than to the actual calamity. It happens in each and all of those situations – as recent as the floods in Mozambique, containing Ebola in the DRC, or the Kathmandu earthquake in Nepal, or Niger, Afghanistan, the Central African Republic – the list goes on.

So we need to partner, and I assure you that we will leave no stone unturned in that partnership.

And our National Societies are taking it very seriously. Many are being trained in road safety. We’re often the first ones on the scene of an accident because of our ambulance and first aid services.

We’re taking more and more initiatives. Like recently in the Philippines where we advocated for a law to be passed to make children wearing seatbelts mandatory. Or in Mexico where we bring road safety as a component of the concept of ‘safe cities’.

I mentioned the role of the regulators, the government officials, the law enforcers – well, none of that will work without champions and advocates.

I’m so heartened today to see my friend Jean Todt here – I don’t know anyone who’s a greater champion, and I’ve witnessed you first hand and seen the way you have taken this advocacy to the highest level of governments and the United Nations. Deservedly you have been appointed as the UN Secretary General’s special envoy. I join you in your passion, your compassion, your leadership, and am happy that you’re here among many other champions today.

We will continue to make our own commitment to you all in protecting lives, livelihoods and dignity. We look forward to partnering with you for the next 20 years, and to seeing some of these terrible numbers go down.

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