By Ola El Soueni
Egypt has one of the highest road fatality rates in the world, resulting in an average of 35-40 deaths per day. With hordes of people commuting back and forth from their vacation destinations every week during the holidays, we hear about many accidents during the summer season. And while the government has acknowledged the issue and begun efforts to improve the infrastructure of roads leading to Alexandria and the North Coast, much remains to be done to improve general road safety in Egypt.
The Nada Foundation for Safer Egyptian Roads is a private initiative launched in reaction to the alarming rise of road related injuries and fatalities in Egypt. The foundation was established in loving memory of Nada, a 19-year-old university student who fell victim to the country’s dangerous roads a few years ago.
Established by Dr. Ahmed Shelbaya a pediatrician and an expert in Public Health, and Nihad Shelbaya, a Public Affairs’ expert, the Nada Foundation is run by a number of public health and public policy specialists, as well as safety engineers. Community Times speaks with co-founder Nihad Shelbaya to discuss the foundation’s work on the ground, the key challenges that they face, and how they hope to make Egypt’s streets safer.
Can you give us some statistics regarding road accidents in Egypt and what the main causes for accidents are?
Unfortunately, Egypt, together with a handful of other countries, has one of the highest global fatality rates due to road accidents, with a rate of 42 deaths per 100,000 Egyptians. According to data from the World Health Organization in 2012, it was reported that 14,000 Egyptians are killed on the road every year (an average of 35-40 per day). Multiply that number by 30 and you get the number of those injured and handicapped due to road accidents.
It is worth mentioning that road accidents are the number one killer of Egyptians in the age bracket of 15 to 29 years old. Furthermore, nearly 40 per cent of those killed or injured due to road accidents are pedestrians. These numbers are expected to compound and multiply in the coming years unless something radical is done to change the situation as soon as possible.
What are the reasons for this increase?
The main reason behind this increase is the pressure for economic development; as a result of this pressure, more roads are being built without proper safety standards, and urbanization and expansion of cities is done without correct urban planning and safety standards. More importantly, the absence of an effective, empowered and accountable National Lead Agency working on road safety standards means that there are no checks on the current road system. Finally, we cannot overlook the lack of political will and the fact that existing laws are simply not implemented correctly.
Other factors include the rising number unqualified drivers who enter the road system due to an easy entrance exams – or none at all – as well as the lack of efficient sidewalks and road crossings.
When was the Nada Foundation initiated and what is its main role?
It all began with an initiative in February 2014 to raise the public’s awareness of this very dangerous reality; the Nada Foundation for Safer Egyptian Roads was officially established and registered in August 2014.
The foundation’s objective is to control and eventually eliminate road related injuries and fatalities in Egypt. In order to achieve this objective, the foundation works on two main strategies: raising the standards of safety within the Egyptian road system (not just the roads), and educating road system users in order to reduce the occurrence of accidents. This is achieved by raising awareness about the magnitude of road safety crises in Egypt and the potential for the problem to compound in the near future.
We also try to apply pressure on the government and private sector to raise road system standards, with a focus on establishing an empowered National Lead Agency for road system safety.
From your experience on the ground, how can road accidents be prevented?
The Nada Foundation believes that suffering and loss of life as a result of road accidents is preventable; there are learnings and proven interventions that have succeeded in reducing the burden elsewhere. These include different kinds of interventions, including: addressing road/sidewalk design and safety, examining vehicles and their safety standards, raising road user awareness and improving driving behavior, and building an effective, empowered and accountable National Lead Agency working on road safety standards.
It goes without saying that the implementation of existing laws and a licensing maintenance system are crucial to preventing road accidents.
What is the current structure of the Nada Foundation and who are its counterparts?
There are five board members and 18 committed volunteers. We also have a committee of scientific experts in the areas of public health, road safety engineering, public policy and legislation.
We work collaboratively with almost all the entities that are concerned with our cause. There have been discussions/collaborations with Egypt Vehicle Club, The Rotary Club, Cairo Runners, Cairo Scooters, Egyptian Road Safety Organization, University Clubs, Enactus Student Organization and a number of different ministries, including the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Roads and Bridges, Ministry of Transportation and Ministry of Population.
What kind of volunteers do you recruit?
We need support with everything – whether human or financial resources, and that’s why we are always keen to receive volunteers from different specialties. This is not as simple as it sounds, since volunteers need coordination and support – something that needs dedicated staff, which we still can’t afford. Nevertheless, we encourage volunteers to come up with creative ideas and plans for implementation, funding and sustainability and we incubate these ideas and activities if we can.
How do you go about your work?
We hold workshops for our volunteers and we have regular seminars and lectures for different audiences, including young drivers, pedestrians, parents, and policy makers, among others. We host those events at universities, conference centers, and sporting clubs; we communicate through large events, but we also rely on written, visual and audio media. Through these events, we discuss different topics, such as the magnitude of the current crisis and the predicted burden in the coming years, different ways to change user behavior on the current the road system, and policies and strategies to address the crisis; we also share the results of our own research.
Are there other NGOs that work on this issue in Egypt?
Several NGOs exist with high concern for road safety, mostly focusing on pad victim care, education, and communication; however, there is a need to have a common understanding internally with stakeholders who are invested in the cause to clearly frame the issue and discuss what our priorities should be; these priorities should then be implemented strategically and should have measurable results.
Who is your target?
Anyone engaged with the road system in one way or another is our target, but we are specifically interested in youth, parents, policy makers (within ministries, local municipalities, governors, etc.), education specialists, and pedestrians. We reach our targets by using visual, audio and written material, as well as social media of course.
What do you think is needed to communicate the right message to youth and actually convince them to take action?
Three points need to be presented to address the issue and send out positive messages. First, we have to acknowledge that by nature, youth will always be high risk takers compared to other age groups. Second, it should be considered that changing negative behavior is one of the most difficult things to do, and third, while conveying knowledge and awareness is essential, it is not sufficient to change behavior. Accordingly, it is important to communicate the dangers of risky behaviors in different ways; however very little change can be expected if rules and laws are not in place, and more importantly, if they are not implemented strictly.
What are your biggest challenges?
We face two major challenges. One of them is raising the public’s awareness of the seriousness and magnitude of the crisis in the midst of many competing issues. The other issue is that, unless an empowered and accountable National Lead Agency for road safety is established, all our efforts and that of other interested civil society and private sector entities will not have a significant impact.
What do you consider the Nada Foundation’s greatest achievement?
One of our greatest achievements is building our knowledge of road system safety on scientific expertise, which has helped us establish legitimacy. Having a huge number of followers and interested volunteers, especially youth, is another marker of success for us. We have managed to prioritize the issue of road system users on the agenda of different stakeholders, and successfully became a focal point for those interested in reducing the burden of road-related fatalities and injuries.
What is the Foundation’s plan for the future?
We are hoping to extend our presence to all governorates and at least 50% of Egyptian universities, as well as expand our staff and volume of activities with other stakeholders during our second year. We are very encouraged by the strong response we are getting, which means we’ve succeeded in attracting attention to the cause.
For More Information on The Nada Foundation for Safer Egyptian Roads, email your inquiries to [email protected], or follow them on their Facebook page The NADA Foundation for Safer Egyptian Roads.