Mobility in rural transport in developing countries largely involves walking and the use of intermediate means of transport (IMTs) in the form of bicycles, animal drawn carts and boats. In all these modes of travel there are both safety and security risks. Safety risks are usually seen in terms of accidents resulting in injuries, death or damage to IMTs or vehicles. Security risks can include cases of criminality in transport for example piracy on waterways. This article will focus on safety rather than security in rural transport.
There is little that is reported about accidents in rural transport compared to urban transport. There are arguments that since rural transport involves relatively slower speeds safety is not an important issue. However rural development can be seen to depend significantly on rural transport safety. For example in Uganda health workers and teachers are reluctant to work in the islands of Lake Victoria due to unsafe water vessels, compromising the quality of basic services that can be delivered to local communities.
One reason for the lack of interest in rural transport issues is that there is no formalised method of data collection. Currently data is collected by the Police, Insurance and Health Centers, whose surveillence in rural areas is low leading to under-reporting. There are also concerns about the kind of data collected by these institutions which can be subjective to their institutional needs. For example in the case of a local health centre an accident victim may be classified as an injury rather than specifying a water or road accident. The data also fails to adequately capture issues such as community perceptions of safety, changes in quality of life following accidents, and the communities own responses to safety problems. Without which data planners are unlikely to develop effective accident eduction programmes.
Another concern is insurance, rural people are too poor to insure themselves and their IMTs, and their vehicles and vessels are in any case in too poor condition to qualify for insurance cover. In addition few people know what insurance is and are unaware of victim compensation procedures when accidents do occur.
Rural transport safety issues need to be seen in a much wider perspective, including not only vehicular collision but also ongoing unsafe transport conditions which can lead to injury or death. For example although walking is regarded as a safe mode of travel it includes the risk of stumbling, falling, injury from thorns, or attack by animals. Similarly cyclists risk falling due to slippery surfaces or loss of balance.
To an extent rural transport safety hinges on rural infrastructure, this is particularly seen in the provision of facilities such as bridges, or enlarged pavements for IMT use. The improved condition of infrastructure therefore contributes to the safety of users.
As is seen with urban transport there is a need to improve both the surveillance and enforcement of safety regulations. Often local authorities/police are concerned that regulations do not effectively cover IMTs and therefore it is difficult to prosecute offenders. The consequence of this is a reluctance to enforce regulations. There are also cases of political interference with regard to the enforcement of regulations which are seen as harassing poor people rather than improving their safety.
Awareness of rural safety issues is required at user, planning and policy levels. Improved data collection on transport safety issues should be developed, promoted and anchored within rural development programmes across different sectors eg. health or fishing. More research is needed and institutions and universities should be supported to initiate this.
Overview contributed by Paul Kwamusi of the Uganda Transport Forum Group.