M Jean Todt, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Road Safety


M Jean Todt, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Road Safety, thank you for coming to Ghana and for mobilising this regional conference.  Your visit here was very much on the minds of Mr. and Mrs. Annan when I saw them both at the beginning of the year, in Geneva, and Mrs. Annan here, and they committed then to joining you here and I know they were looking forward to showing you some of this beautiful country.  So it is fitting, that we paused to show our respect to Mr. Annan this morning.  What will be the most significant sign of respect, as you said, is the seriousness with which we take up this life-and-death topic this morning and the commitments we follow-through to improve road safety and urban development.

It is clear that our topic today is important for SDG 11, on sustainable, safe, inclusive, cities and communities.

I appreciate what has already been shared this morning about the interconnectedness of the Sustainable Development Goals.  The 2030 Agenda is indeed a unified agenda for economic, social and environmental development.  We are all aware that progress towards one goal helps us advance towards others, and delays in one area jeopardizes progress in others.

Urban mobility requires investment in public infrastructure – the roads and bridges and drains envisioned under SDG 9.  But this investment is not going to make our roads safe unless we also create work spaces elsewhere.  The roads are our markets, in Accra and throughout the region. Roads are where sellers find buyers.

You can buy amazing things from your car at major intersections in Accra – everything from sachet water to fruits and vegetables to household gadgets and clothing to, disconcertedly, live puppies.

Does road safety require that markets be somewhere else?

Urban mobility also requires respect for human rights.  We often read that roadways have been cleared of informal settlements and market stalls.  But we do not always read that appropriate alternative space has been provided for them.  If not, of course, as soon as the press pictures show that roadways have been cleared, the sellers and stalls return, the area remains overcrowded, and pedestrians and market women and their children are again at extreme risk of becoming traffic fatalities.  But if when clearing roadways we take into account the human right for adequate housing and SDG 10 to reduce inequalities, and we provide that first, then efforts to clear roadways will be more successful.

Road safety is a shared responsibility, across many Government entities.  The infrastructure may be the job of Ministries for Transport, Ministries for roads and highways, Ministries of Public Works.  Maintaining them may be shared by the work of Ministries for Local Government and Municipal authorities.  Coordination among them is of course critical. Parliamentary and budget support are critical.

Building new roads and then not enforcing zoning regulations to keep the roads and sidewalks passable, and the drains around them clear, is a sure way to waste the scarce resources invested in public infrastructure.

And that brings us to another SDG, number 6, on water and sanitation.

And most importantly, SDG 3 on good health, given that road fatalities is one of the largest causes of avoidable deaths in many countries across the region. For this reason, the World Health Organization is the lead local UN partner on road safety.

The list of linkages goes on. And across them all, SDG 16 on effective governance, on reducing corruption, on ensuring voice in public affairs for all citizens is fundamental.  Enforcement is key…of road safety regulations and traffic laws. Better roads, so needed for urban mobility, to connect cities, to connect urban to rural areas, and to improve mobility within cities, will not take us easily where we want to go if motorists and commercial traffic are stopped in their neighborhoods and along highways at multiple informal checkpoints, harassed for small or large “fees” to be able to continue on their way.

We build roads for mobility and transport, but without an all of government approach to maintaining them, and enforcing rules of the road, they become in fact opportunities for petty corruption and become marketplaces and slums of last resort, and thus remain dangerous instead of safe.

I hope that the opportunity for sharing knowledge and experience in this regional workshop will highlight ways that you have found to build and sustain coordination for safe roads and urban mobility.

I hope it will highlight what many of you are doing to achieve SDG 11 for sustainable, safe, resilient and inclusive cities in ways that draws together the capabilities and responsibilities of government entities, public sector investors, and civil society.

I hope that the examples will go beyond innovative ways to commit the needed resources to build and expand road systems, but will show how we get the rest of the way, in maintaining the physical infrastructure and in maintaining good governance.

There are examples here in Ghana of advocacy and actions to promote an All of Government approach to urban development.  Last January, for example the Ghana Urban Forum took up the challenge of “Localizing the New Urban Agenda: in Promoting Spatial Planning as a part of Ghana’s Industrialization Drive”, organized by the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development.  The Forum provided a platform for representatives from government, civil society organizations, private sector, academia and other stakeholders to discuss urban development challenges and how to strengthen urban governance and management.

In celebrating Habitat Day this year, the UN worked with many partners to highlight how the New Urban Agenda recognizes the mutual dependence and indivisibility of the 17 goals in the Agenda 2030.  The Agenda promotes a comprehensive approach so that better cities help us meet the goals to end extreme poverty, ensure good health and well-being, empower women, expand clean water and sanitation services, and provide decent work – all while protecting our natural environment and green space,  All speakers and participants emphasized the importance of effective implementation, enforcement and coordination.

The 20 UN Agencies in Ghana, as the UN Country Team which includes UN-Habitat, is committed to supporting Ghana in realizing safe, resilient, inclusive, and sustainable cities, SDG 11.

This is incorporated in the UN partnership programme for the next 5 years, titled the UN Sustainable Development Partnership, which was signed by the Government in June. It takes a coordinated approach in supporting industrialization, environmental protection, private sector-led growth for decent work, human rights and expansion of essential public services in under-served areas. 

I want to close with just one further example of these connections.  Early last year in conversation with Mr. and Mrs. Annan about the Government of Ghana’s ambitious agenda to modernize agriculture and diversify industry we were talking about how the education and training system has to prepare young people for these jobs in the future, and how businesses need to be confident that they can find workers with the right starting skills and ability to learn new ones, if these jobs are to benefit Ghanaians.  And that led to the question of how well technical and vocational institutions are doing that here.

So that somehow put me in the position of offering to arrange a tour of some kind where they could see for themselves, and also raise awareness of this issue.  I was a little disconcerted when they said, well, sure, how about when we are in Ghana in March.

You had to be careful what you offered to Mr. Annan, he was a stickler for following through.

So, ok, we organized a visit for them, along with the then EU Ambassador and his wife, driving on the roads to the Central Region, to visit a training centre supported by both the Ministry of Food and Agriculture and the Ministry of Trade and Industry, at the intersection of agro processing jobs.  I remember their comment about leaving a generous amount of time to get there, being concerned about the state of the roads and the volume of traffic on them.

So we visited the training centre, and of course as you would expect, he patiently visited with many young entrepreneurs at displays they had set up to show him their products.  He listened to them tell him what were the barriers to growing their businesses... Access to affordable finance, technology to improve quality, and roads to markets were the most common answers.  When he addressed them, and the press, and Ministry representatives, Mr. Annan expressed his appreciation for this kind of training He pointed out that "instead of joining the ranks of unemployed graduates, these young people are creating and growing businesses."

The youth of this country and throughout the Region deserve opportunities for decent work, in safe work places, and to be able to get to them through safe transportation networks.  Africa has the fastest growing youth population and the fastest rate of urbanization of any region in the world.  It is indeed most timely that you have come together to share your experience and ideas about what it takes to ensure road safety and promote safe, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable cities and communities.

Thank you.