Interview of Ms. Lotte Brondum
Executive Director of the Global Alliance of NGOs for Road Safety Secretariat | Member of the Advisory Board and Steering Committee of the United Nations Road Safety Fund (UNRSF)
The impact of the Covid-19 on road safety and NGOs
Ms Lotte Brondum, you are the Executive Director of the Global Alliance of NGOs for Road Safety, can you tell us a little bit more about the Alliance. What is the role of civil society in road safety and how does the Alliance contribute to an enhanced space for civil society?
Civil society collectively is a hugely important partner in the fight to achieve the global goals for road safety: it is the voice of the people. We will never achieve a meaningful reduction in road fatalities if we fail to engage communities.
NGOs are the representatives for these communities: they are the eyes, ears, and voices for their citizens. Their role is to hold their local and national governments accountable for road safety on behalf of the people; to make sure that commitments are kept, to bring their communities’ fears and issues to their leaders, and to help those leaders to implement evidence-based solutions that work for people. They are influencers, pushing for change in behavior and attitude. They are also partners, we encourage government leaders to involve NGOs in their road safety strategies and actions — they have a lot to offer.
The Alliance is the connector for road safety NGOs: we enable them to network together and with the wider road safety community and to learn from and support one another; we mobilize them to take part in global campaigns and in doing so, to be a stronger voice for change; and we build capacity among them to undertake evidence-based programs and advocacy to reduce road fatalities.
You are also Member of the Advisory Board and of the Steering Committee of the UNRSF, can you tell us a little bit more about your role with the Fund? What has been your experience as a Board and Committee member in the last two years of the Fund’s existence?
I was invited to join the Advisory Board of the UNRSF before the launch in 2018 to represent the voice of civil society. Subsequently, I was also invited to join the Steering Committee. I think it is really important that the different stakeholders are represented. There is a lot of will in the steering committee and Advisory Board to get the UNRSF to succeed and very good work done by the Secretariat, UNECE and the UN Secretary-Generals Special Envoy for Road Safety to raise the needed funds. Obviously, we would like to see more NGOs being part from partnerships with UN agencies as implementing partners, and would like to see that non-UN agencies participation as recipients for funds.
With more than half of the world’s population currently under some form of confinement due to COVID-19, in your view, how the virus is impacting road safety in low- and middle-income countries?
The Alliance NGO members’ report that road safety in most countries is not the highest focus for most governments during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it remains as relevant as it has ever been: essential goods and services are transported via roads. While traffic volumes are lower in most countries due to lockdowns and curfews, many are also seeing a huge increase in excessive speeding on quiet roads. This is a story we hear across high-, middle-, and low-income countries. That the roads are quieter due to Coronavirus, but there are more fatal crashes. While speed is the main trend, other consequences are emerging; in Uganda, a ban on the use of private cars has pushed people toward motorcycle usage, leading to an increase in crashes among inexperienced riders, whereas alcohol bans in South Africa are reducing road deaths.
On the positive side, again throughout all income level countries, more people are participating in active ways of getting around such as walking and cycling and as is well-reported, the air in many places is much cleaner. This is highlighting the inequalities in the way our road systems are designed and, unfortunately, forcing vulnerable road users in the path of traffic where sidewalks are too narrow or non-existent.
On the 20th of April, the Global Alliance of NGOs for Road Safety organized a webinar on how COVID-19 can teach us about safer roads and urban planning and how can we work with urban planners and activists from other sectors to achieve a common goal. Can you share the key takeaways from this webinar?
This session was the first in a series looking at the different issues that COVID-19 is showing us connected to road safety. The key takeaway from this and, in fact, from the second session about mobility, is that our road systems are a choice: we have chosen to prioritize motor vehicles over walking and cycling through the way our roads and essential journeys are designed. COVID-19 is allowing us to experience a different normal. We need to help people understand that there is a choice, it is not simply the way things are: to be ‘critical thinkers’.
The session also spoke of the potential backlash against public transport and against urban density. This, the speakers argued is a mistake. By pushing people toward suburban living and working and private car use, we ultimately decrease the safety of our streets.
We will have more Alliance Live Sessions in the weeks to come. They are free and open to all and you sign up on www.roadsafetyngos.org. If you cannot join the live session you can watch all the Alliance Live Sessions and find out about future ones HERE.
Have you received some feedback from NGOS about road safety initiatives or projects that had to be put on hold, or even stopped because of COVID-19? What possible consequences do you foresee?
Nearly all of our NGOs are struggling due to the pandemic. Community interventions, such as work in schools, are on hold, funders are pulling out due to economic fears, and government attention is focused elsewhere making it hard for NGOs to push forward the road safety agenda. This is particularly frustrating after the sense of momentum following the 3rd Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety in Sweden. NGOs are worried that when life returns to some normality that much of the advocacy they have begun will be forgotten and progress will be heavily set back. Many are afraid that they themselves may not be in existence if the funding drought continues.
There is an urgent need to lead and support emerging NGOs to build their resilience. This will include capacity building in fundraising, fallback plans such as digital platforms, etc. If measures to mitigate these threats are implemented on time, NGOs will be saved from losing experienced staff whose capacity has been developed over several years at a high investment. It would not be in the best interest for the world to watch as the road safety NGOs lose all the gains made in the past in saving lives and also lose the opportunity of saving more lives in the future. We must support this important group of champions and protect them from possible collapse.
We call for all partners, including the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Road Safety, the UNRSC, and influencers such as WHO, Bloomberg, FIA Foundation, Swedish Government, and corporate sector partners to unite to maintain the momentum of the Stockholm Declaration and to support their NGO partners to play their part.
What could be the role of the international community on road safety in this COVID-19 context-? Last February, a few days before the outbreak was declared a public health emergency of international concern, the third Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety adopted the Stockholm Declaration. It endorsed a new ten-year effort to transform the safety of roads with a target to halve traffic deaths and injuries by 2030. How can we join our efforts today to achieve this target?
Although there is a sense of the momentum of Sweden being lost, the Stockholm Declaration could actually prove to be very timely. It speaks not only to road safety in the strict sense, but interconnected issues including sustainable planning, environmental concerns, and mobility. These are the same issues emerging from the pandemic. We see people around the world enjoying being able to walk or cycle into their streets, to local grocery stores and outdoor spaces, in cleaner air. Governments are responding by extending walkways and cycle lanes on a temporary basis, closing streets to cars, and reducing speed limits on urban roads. Activists for all these issues are hopeful that the public will value these changes and that this could become a turning point.
As a road safety community, we need to embrace this: the solutions that are making the air less polluted and the streets more encouraging for pedestrians and cyclists are the same solutions that can help us achieve the 2030 target: slower speeds, better infrastructure for vulnerable road users, a mindset of people before vehicles. When the crisis clears, we must be ready to relaunch the Stockholm Declaration together, working not just among ourselves but across the SDGs. There is a role for each of us to play.
Thank you for this interview!
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