According to the Ministry of Health, Belize recorded a fatality rate of 19 traffic deaths per 100 thousand inhabitants last year.
That was the highest fatality rate of all the member countries of the Caribbean Development Bank, and as a result the CDB is trying the help the Government of Belize to lower that number.
It is a big task, and they’ve come up with an intervention strategy called the Belize Road Safety Project.
It is a multi-departmental approach which has ambitious goals for the next 3 years, and for the past 2 days, the facilitators have been meeting with the different representatives for a training workshop.
To examine the importance of this project, our Daniel Ortiz took a look at its context in this report.
Daniel Ortiz reporting
In March of this year, the Government of Belize, by way of the Minister with responsibility for Economic Development, announced the launch of the Belize Road Safety Project. It is being funded by the Caribbean Development Bank, with a loan to GOB of 14.5 million dollars.
[File: March 14, 2013]
Hon. Santino Castillo - Minister of State with Responsibility for Economic Development
"I recognize the importance of that stretch of highway, the Western Highway which is the one most utilized by cyclist. I know how important it is to improve the highway, having been brushed many times by vehicles. The high death rate on our highway is a serious health concern, given the resulting lost in productivity, and increase venerability to poverty has significant social and economic repercussions. The launching of the road safety project is therefore with very good timing. The project represents the first phase of what is expected to be a long-term initiative, of the Government of Belize to improve road safety in Belize. Its overall objective is to reduce deaths and serious injuries associated with road traffic accidents."
Since the launching of that project, there have been 2 multiple traffic fatalities on the very same Western Highway which Castillo was referring to. The first occurred at mile 6 on April 18, which claimed the lives of 3 hard-working Belizean men, and the other took place 2 weeks ago at mile 60. In that accident, 3 international students and a Belizean taxi driver were killed.
With such vivid representations, it is not difficult to digest that according to the Ministry of Health’s statistics, Belize continues to have the highest traffic fatality rate among the CDB member countries.
The Road Safety Project is a targeted approach to this problem, however, because it is a pilot, the area being targeted will not include sections of the highway past Belmopan.
File: March 14, 2013
Hon. Santino Castillo
"The project, as you know, will focus from the Belize City round about, at the junction of Cemetery Road and Central America Boulevard, to the junction of the Humming Bird and George Price Highway in Belmopan, and along the Humming Bird highway to its junction with Constitution Drive in Belmopan and around the entire Belmopan Ring road. The road safety project commenced in January this year will run initially for 39 months. It will be financed by the Government of Belize through a loan from the CDB, along with counterpart financing from GOB."
Mavis Johnson - International Road Safety Consultant
"The project has been funded by the Caribbean Development Bank and the Government of Belize because Belize is actually the highest country in the Caribbean with death rate due to road crashes based on the population. It's a three year project designed as a demonstration project on the corridor between the city of Belize and Belmopan. On this corridor there is going to be an integrated approach to improve road safety on many fronts. There will be improvements to the road infrastructure, policing - there will be two more highway patrol vehicles that will have modern equipment, there will be two new ambulances to assist in picking up and attending to collisions along there. There will be curriculum developed for teachers to work with children in the schools and understand and learn about road safety. There will be campaigns using the media."
Today was the second meeting with representatives from the different government agencies that will be a part of the project. The consultant says that in the next 3 years, they want to decrease the fatalities on the Western Highway by 20%.
Members of the public will also be able to recognize the project at work.
"Over the last three years, we experienced about 60 fatalities a year and about 6 and 700 injuries per year. What we'd like to see that when this project finishes there will be a 20% reduction. So we want to reduce those numbers from 60 downwards between 40 and 45 fatalities - even now it's too many. They will some improvements to the highway, some improvements that are needed on the highway such as the road's surface - road sides so that you can't fall off the side because there has to be some shoulder, you will probably see a more reflective road markings so that the lines in the roads actually show up. There will be rumble strips down the sides of the roads so that if you are falling asleep then you can be awakened by the rumble strips and correct your steering and stay on the road. You will see infrastructure improvements. You will see two very visible highway patrol units, this sort of things you see on the TV, you rest and a cop shows. These will be SUV's - they are painted Blue and Yellow checkered sides, you might see it with orange reflection on the back to show that this is a Highway Patrol vehicle. The police presence alone will provide some deterrent because some people will not want to get a ticket - they will not want to be stopped. Children will come home from school with information about road safety for their parents because children can be very good influences."
The facilitators met with 34 department representatives yesterday in Belmopan, and 30 representatives today in Belize City.