African cities need to push for green, inclusive transport, forum hears

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The need for cleaner and more efficient vehicles, public transport and adequate infrastructure for non-motorised transport in Africa is an issue that has received attention at the ongoing Transport Forum in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.

Participants at the two-day African Development Bank meeting heard that green and inclusive transport will stimulate sustainable growth on a continent where most cities are grappling with inefficient and inadequate transport especially given the high rate of urbanisation. “Green transport means less air pollution, less congestion, and green jobs – public transport addressing poverty through affordable transport,” said Jane Akumu, a Programme Officer in the United Nations Environment Programme’s Transport Unit.

Green transport is necessary to address Africa’s aging vehicle fleet, with most vehicle years being 16-20 years old, contributing to emission of dangerous gases, according to UNEP. Air pollution, most of it occurring from the transport sector, is said to be the cause of 176,000 deaths per year in Africa, according to the World Health Organisation.

Energy-efficient vehicles came under discussion as an important aspect of clean transport, which could be adopted on the continent. Ecologically friendly transport was described as an easy way to reduce fuel consumption from road transport with less fuel used to travel the same distance. However, clean transport must be backed with appropriate incentives and regulations. “Clean transport policies are a must,” said Akumu. “They will also ensure health benefits for populations.”

Investing in efficient public transport is key to meeting the demand for transport, particularly in urban areas, said Christopher Kost, Africa Program Director at the Institution of Transport Development and Policy. “With proper public transport, many motorists will not need to use their vehicles, leading to less congestion in our cities, and less air pollution,” he said.

Kost challenged authorities to provide inclusive transport structures, serving every cadre of road user. “When designing roads it is critical that we not only think of motorists, but also pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists as well,” he underscored.

However, most cities in Africa lack special pedestrian paths and cyclists’ lanes, Kost continued. “Most times you find pedestrians walking on cycle tracks and cyclists are forced to go to the roads, risking accidents,” he observed. He gave an example of Nairobi where 500 pedestrians die each year from road accidents, adding, “We can save these lives with proper street and road designs.”

A key message at the meeting was the issue of designing climate-resilient infrastructure, and improving maintenance of existing infrastructure. “We must take into consideration the impact of climate change, mapping out the most vulnerable areas and prioritising the kind of interventions – which roads are most suitable for which areas,” stated Aage Jorgensen, Country Programme Manager at the Nordic Development Fund.

The Africa Transport Forum 2015 is being hosted by the African Development Bank at its headquarters in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.