Sub-Saharan Africa is the most dangerous place in the world to travel by foot. Pedestrians account for 22% (pdf) of road fatalities worldwide; in Africa, this proportion rises to 38%. But these most vulnerable road users are easy for government officials to overlook. Only about a third of low- and middle-income countries have policies that protect pedestrians.
Such statistics have served as a wake-up call in Africa, a continent that struggles with traffic congestion, air pollution and limited access to transport. In Uganda, Kenya and a handful of other countries, officials are developing laws and guidelines to keep pedestrians safe. But policies alone are not enough – any legislation needs to be implemented and enforced.
Pedestrian safety is a major concern in Kampala, Uganda's capital city. The government has made real progress in this area. In 2012, it drafted a policy, which has since been made law, to protect pedestrians and cyclists.
Pedestrian safety must become a key concern for the benefit of all.
The policy reinforces the idea that the government is responsible for providing high-quality infrastructure – pavements, cycle lanes and the like – to serve the country's non-motorised transport (NMT) users. It sets out standards to ensure that elderly people, those with disabilities and pedestrians with small children can use roads and pavements safely.
But infrastructure alone cannot reduce pedestrian deaths. People will have to change their behaviour on the roads, which is why educating the public is so important, as Uganda's new policy recognises.
The law calls for primary schools, media outlets and NGOs to support the government's efforts to keep pedestrians safe. In conjunction with the transport ministry, the First African Bicycle Information Organisation organised Kampala's third annual car-free day last December. Such events will be critical to ensuring the new policy's success.
Implementing a non-motorised transport policy is no easy task, however. It requires co-ordination across many branches of government, including departments responsible for transport, health and security. Law-enforcement authorities must understand the importance of the issue and the need to support it. Local government officials must also buy into the policy, since they are often responsible for the quality of traffic infrastructure.
Safe Roads for All is a key aim of the international road safety community for the Post-2015 Development Agenda.
Despite such challenges, Uganda stands to gain much from the policy, which will be implemented by the summer of 2014. By enabling people to walk and cycle safely, the government can improve air quality as well as access to schools, health facilities and other critical services, promoting social and economic development across the country.
The UN environment programme (Unep) has worked hard to promote the safety of pedestrians and cyclists throughout Africa. Our Share the Road initiative, which focuses on east Africa, has encouraged countries to pay more attention to non-motorised transport. In Uganda, Unep has worked closely with the government to help to design its NMT policy, enhance public awareness and develop pilot projects to improve pedestrian safety.
Uganda is an African pioneer in prioritising the safety of pedestrians and cyclists; other countries would do well to follow its example. But, crucially, Uganda and other countries need international support as they design and implement new policies to keep pedestrians safe. Rob de Jong is head of the transport unit at Unep