Counting the human cost of international trade

04/20/05

Death on the road to international development BMJ Volume 330, p 972

International trade is creating a global road safety crisis that only serves to inhibit development and perpetuate poverty, argues an expert in this week's BMJ.

Every year in Africa 200,000 people are killed on the roads and millions seriously injured.

Some of these deaths are attributable to the activities of international development companies, such as the Commonwealth Development Corporation, now owned by the Department for International Development of the UK government.

In 2003, CDC made a pre-tax profit of 15.6m from its investment in Africa.

Captains of industry are excited about international trade because of its potential to increase profits. But if businesses had to pay the full social and environmental costs of transport then trade would be much less efficient and they would show little enthusiasm for it, writes Professor Ian Roberts.

Fortunately for business, ordinary people pay much of the costs, so that business in Africa is lucrative.

According to the World Health Organisation the economic losses associated with traffic injuries in developing countries is nearly $100bn, twice as much as all overseas development assistance. "These losses only serve to inhibit development and perpetuate poverty," he argues.

The government's response to global road safety crisis is to provide funding for the Global Road Safety Partnership, which involves corporate giants such as car makers Ford and DaimlerChrysler, and drinks multinational Bacardi-Martini. "Are these the socially responsible philanthropic organisations that will bring road safety to Africa, or has the department put the fox in charge of the chickens?" asks Roberts.

"Creating wealth in poorer countries is a noble aim but it is immoral for the Department for International Development to continue to pay insufficient heed to the human cost of transport," he concludes.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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